In Washington, it was a weekend of alternatives.
The events started with thousands of Trump supporters descending on the Capitol, unveiling cell phone cameras, ponchos and crisp Make America Great Again hats.
They ended with a different sea of hats on the National Mall, pink and fluffy, as many thousands more came to D.C. for the Women’s March.
The opposites collided in train stations, rest stops and hotels — sometimes in a single elevator bank, as when a woman in purple evening gown with an oversize glass of wine exited as two women with luggage and a “woman’s place is in the resistance” sign came in.
“I bet she just wants to marry an old billionaire,” the arriving woman said. She went up.
One side believed it represented the true version of America. The other side did, too.
On Sunday, after it was all over, President Donald Trump’s most effective whisperer found the perfect way to describe the completely unintersecting realities, in this case concerning the attendance numbers at the inauguration, which viewers were eagerly comparing with that of earlier inaugurations and the Women’s March on Washington. Wasn’t the inaugural objectively not the most watched in history? Well, said Kellyanne Conway, she had “alternative facts.”
Trump supporters came to see and celebrate a man who for many of them is a savior. A new kind of politician, someone who changes the norms and the rules.
Paula Elenchin, a home health worker from Pennsylvania who came for the inaugural, put it like this: her father owned a grocery store in a “one red light” town and always made it his business to avoid politics stances for fear of offending customers. But he couldn’t stay on the sidelines for Trump, and displayed campaign signs on his yard. “Guess what happened,” says Elenchin, 52. “Business increased.”
The anticipatory crowd was given exactly what it wanted to hear in Trump’s inaugural address. He would be for “America first.” He repeated the phrase in a bleak, robotically delivered speech that described an America that many Americans didn’t recognize — one of “carnage” overrun entirely by drugs and gangs, a disaster country rather than a place with problems that need to and can be solved.
Protesters showed their opposition by taking to the streets, in small and overlapping bands shutting down intersections. When a few turned to more radical action, breaking some windows and starting at least one small fire, they elicited a strong response from D.C. Metro police and the National Guard, who clashed with some in the crowds using chemical spray and, according to several reports, concussion grenades.
On Saturday, the anti-Trump numbers were enlarged by a determined, more festive and also more numerous crowd — the hundreds of thousands who flooded D.C. for the Women’s March.
It’s difficult to generalize about a rally and march that “kept going and going,” as one onlooker on Seventh Street marveled.
There was a yoga circle whose leader intoned “You are an active participant in your own healing;” a man in a wheelchair holding a sign with the words “Build ramps not walls.” There were signs ridiculing Trump, and ones expressing horror at his campaign rhetoric and implied actions, at the groups he’d insulted or dismissed.
The march bore remarkable similarities to the Hillary Clinton coalition that almost put a woman in the White House.
That coalition reconvened in vast numbers across the country to say that they wouldn’t be ceding a mandate to the new president.
Naturally, it was the size of their numbers that appeared to rankle the Trump. He couldn’t let it go.
So in a speech at CIA headquarters on Saturday, in front of their wall of heroes, he alleged that journalists under-reported the crowd size at his inaugruation because of his “war” with the news media.
In the first official White House press briefing, Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, told a more dramatic falsehood, claiming that Friday’s crowd was the largest audience to watch an inauguration, “period.” And then came the Orwellian defense of his various inaccuracies: “alternative facts.”
As the first week of Trump’s presidency unfolds, his alternative reality shows no signs of reconciling itself with reality. On Sunday, Conway said he would not be releasing his tax reforms at all, an issue she claimed Americans don’t care about. His executive actions are beginning, rolling back the version of America that President Barack Obama used his own executive actions to advance.
Will the women and men who gathered for the Women’s March rise up when necessary to defend that version of America? Given the stark differences in their and Trump supporter’s realities, that looks to be the only alternative.