WASHINGTON — As Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday, much of the crowd assembled on the National Mall watched in silence. The air, swollen with excitement and anxiety, was relatively still, aside from sparse drops of rain cutting through.
Toward the end of his oath, a group of twentysomethings, donning the iconic bright red “Make America Great Again” caps and beanies, started to chatter.
One, frustrated, had tried to make a Snapchat video of the swearing-in, but accidentally deleted it. Another proudly showed off the final product of a face-swap image he made with the app, which imposed Trump’s features on his own face. They broke into laughter.
Like this group, a good portion of those watching from the Mall were conservative millennials. Most had voted for Trump, while others regretted being too young to do so on Election Day — but all were in Washington to be part of a historic inauguration day following a contentious election.
“Trump got elected, so it was lit,” said 16-year-old Garlyn, from Virginia Beach, Va.
Garlyn had come to town with a group of students from her high school. Other groups of excited high schoolers had made the trip in for the festivities.
Some arrived very early Friday morning, from as far as California, braving the chill to witness the the affair and meet other young conservatives.
After his swearing-in, Trump’s speech angled on promising to return power to the public. Jan. 20, 2017, he said, would be remembered as “the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
The promise resonates deeply for many of these young Americans, as they’ve seen their parents and families struggle through difficult financial times: lost jobs, foreclosed homes, and crumbled dreams.
A president who promises that America will start “winning again,” that he will work hard to “bring back their dreams,” is quite appealing: Trump is a galvanizing force, someone who has nourished the hope that they can reach their goals.
“It gives me hope that anybody can truly run for president,” said Timothy Overbank, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles.
For Tucker and Trey Hayden, who traveled from Loudoun, Va., for the ceremony, Trump’s address reflected a presidential character they hope will show the world that the former businessman is committed to putting the country and its people first in its global dealings.
“One word that comes to mind is ‘great,’” 24-year-old Tucker said.
“The next one is ‘America,’” said Trey, 27.
Their friend, Sam Merrill of Fairfax, Va., agreed, pointing out Trump’s willingness to ensure a democratic transition of power was emblematic of “the American ideal.”
Other young attendees — who’d had been skeptical of the new president but came to the event in the interest of giving him that chance — were unimpressed.
“He’s created a lot of anger on both sides,” said Kyanna McCafferty, a 22-year-old from Point Pleasant, N.J. “I don’t think he’s going to make it the next four years.”
McCafferty, who could only be in Washington one day, said she’s still “hopeful,” and wants to remain respectful of the new president.
The signs she and a friend carried to the event read “Donald Trump can’t read” and “Mike Pence likes Nickleback” — both intended to provide comic relief during a turbulent political period, they said.
It worked — both Trump supporters and protesters agreed asking the women for photographs with them and their signs.
Despite multiple demonstrations that led to more than 200 arrests on Friday, there was little tension on the National Mall during and after the ceremony.
Many young attendees attributed this to a willingness to listen to each other and disagree cordially — which they feel older adults should emulate.
Faran Chowdhry, who woke up before 6 a.m. to travel into Washington from his home in northern Virginia, said that willingness to listen to others was missing most from national dialogue — and he wanted to use the day to try and change that.
The 16-year-old had come to Washington with three other Muslim young men, who were all carrying signs reading “Meet a Muslim.” On the back, they’d written “Ask Me Anything.” Throughout the day many did, and the young men patiently answered their questions.
“I love my country,” Chowdhry said. “I was born here. I am a Muslim, I’ve been one all my life. But I’m not a radical. I’m the real deal. Come, ask me anything. I’m listening.AlertMe