On eve of inauguration, Trump addresses nation in shadow of Lincoln

Trump spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr declared ‘I have a dream’, and told the largely white crowd: ‘You’re not forgotten any more’

Donald Trump inauguration: the world holds its breath – live coverage

Donald Trump staked his claim to Washington on Thursday by promising to “make America great again” while at the feet of the US capital’s giant marble statue of Abraham Lincoln in a celebration of patriotic music, military pageantry and fireworks.

The president-elect delivered a brief speech from the Lincoln Memorial, close to the spot where in 1963 Martin Luther King Jr declared, “I have a dream.” Trump told the largely white crowd: “You’re not forgotten any more.”

On a cold night of heavy and sometimes heavy-handed symbolism ahead of Friday’s inauguration, Trump led thousands of supporters in chants of “make America great again”, saying: “And I’ll add, greater than ever before.” A spectacular array of fireworks shot into the sky and spelled: “U-S-A” as the Battle Hymn of the Republic rang out.

Accompanied by his wife, Melania, and other family members, he then walked up the steps and spent the better part of a minute silently contemplating the seated Lincoln, the president who won the civil war and helped end slavery. His celebrated Gettysburg address and second inaugural address are inscribed on the chamber walls.

Supporters lined the pool at the National Mall, many wearing “Make America great again” baseball caps and other regalia, though the area was far from full and some left early as temperatures plummeted after dark. Nearby were the Vietnam war memorial and ghostly figures of soldiers at the Korean war memorial.

But it was the juxtaposition with Trump’s fellow Republican Lincoln, the 16th and arguably greatest US president, that was most striking. Hollywood actor Jon Voight, a vocal Trump supporter, told the crowd: “President Lincoln who sits here with us I’m sure is smiling knowing we will be led by an honest and good man, who will work for all the people no matter their creed or colour. We will see a renewed America.”

Some observers, however, found the choice of the Lincoln Memorial jarring. Keith Stiggers, 25, who is African American, said: “When I saw that I was like, wow! Probably a lot of his supporters don’t like Lincoln and his legacy for the country. Is he going to uphold that legacy or is he going to do what he can to step on it?”

Stiggers, a law student, had come with his fiancee to support democracy and feels that Friday’s inaugural address will be crucial. “I think he should definitely build bridges. He got a lot of support from the ‘alt-right’ and now he should make it clear he is governing for all Americans. His speech is going to be very important; it’s going to dictate the pace of his presidency.”

The free “welcome celebration” had begun just after 4pm with military marching, music and pageantry, including the national anthem, followed by a change of gear with drummer DJ Ravidrums (Ravi Jakhotia), who has served as a personal DJ for Hugh Hefner. Behind him giant TV screens flashed the names of every US state.

There were performances from soul singer Sam Moore and an improvised country music group, laden with patriotism. Eventually Trump and his wife, Melania, appeared to the soundtrack of the Rolling Stones’ Heart of Stone. The president-elect turned to give Lincoln a military salute before descending the steps to chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

They joined other family members behind protective glass to watch artists including the Piano Guys – “It’s time to put all our differences aside” – rock band 3 Doors Down, Lee Greenwood and country singer Toby Keith, who was introduced as “one of the most popular artists in history”. Trump is said to have had trouble attracting A-list stars to appear at the event.

Tom Barrack, president of the presidential inauguration committee, then introduced the TV celebrity and businessman turned politician. “I would like you to pay tribute to the courage, to the strength, to the loyalty of this man,” he said.

Trump, holding a microphone in his left hand, thanked his supporters and said: “I’m just the messenger … It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world, they say … it’s something that’s very, very special. The phrase, you all know it, half of you are wearing the hat: make America great again.”

Trump reflected on the noisy rallies of his election effort, which few observers thought would lead to Friday’s ceremonies 18 months ago. “There was never an empty seat, like tonight,” he said. “We all knew that last month of the campaign … we knew that something special was happening.

“The polls started going up, up, up, but they didn’t want to give us credit. Because they forgot about a lot of us. When the campaign started I called it the forgotten man and forgotten woman. Well, you’re not forgotten any more.”

The crowd cheered. Trump promised to bring jobs back, and not let other countries take US jobs any longer, while also rebuilding the military.

Trump addresses a pre-inaugural rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
Trump addresses a pre-inaugural rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

“We are going to do things that haven’t been done in our country for many, many decades, I promise you.”

Washington is a Democratic stronghold where Trump polled less than 5% in the election, but his supporters relished their time in the capital.

Chris Lehman, 55, a maintenance supervisor from Belmar, New Jersey, said: “It’s thrilling to be here today. This is a historic event. We’ve got a president again who’s proud of the country and will bring jobs back to the country. It’s a good feeling. He’s brought jobs back even before he’s taken the keys to the office yet. Unfortunately he’ll probably spend the first 20 days undoing the garbage President Obama did at the end to slow him down.”

Lehman, 55, booked his hotel in nearby Baltimore before the election because he was so confident of Trump’s victory. “You don’t become a billionaire by losing and not knowing what you’re doing,” he said. “He speaks his heart and he speaks his mind. You know what he’s saying is the truth, and you’ve got to love a president like that. He doesn’t owe anybody anything. He can come in and do this right.”

Shannon Wilburn, 48, who runs a Christian youth centre, travelled with a friend from Roby, Texas, for her first visit to the US capital. “We just wanted to be here as patriotic Americans. It’s a bucket list thing to see a swearing-in of a president. I do believe Donald Trump is a Christian. One of the biggest things is his pro-life stance and, as a Christ follower, it’s very hard to accept someone who’s not.”

Wilburn said she doubted that Trump will be able to bridge the partisan divide in his inaugural address on Friday. “They’re not even going to give him a day. Look at the Democrats boycotting it. He can’t get one day of grace. That’s a little frustrating, I think.”

Nearly a million people are expected on the National Mall in Washington for a ceremonial transfer of power that will observe time-honoured traditions and pageantry but usher in profound political uncertainties.

Trump has promised to shake up the postwar liberal order, issued contradictory policy statements and, even before taking office, sparked anger in foreign capitals with his volatile approach. Questions have been raised over the character and temperament of a man who boasted about groping women and still picks fights on Twitter.

Protests are expected on Friday, and a huge women’s march is planned for Saturday, as liberals dig in for four years of opposition to Trump, who enters office as the most unpopular of at least the past seven presidents at the beginning of their terms, according to opinion polls.

He also takes power under the shadow of Russia’s alleged meddling in the presidential election, which has led some Democrats to question his legitimacy. Up to 60 members of Congress will boycott the inauguration ceremony at the US Capitol.

At least 28,000 security personnel from 36 state, local and federal agencies will be deployed for inauguration events, reportedly costing $200m, divided between taxpayers and private donors. Parts of the capital are on lockdown, with steel barriers erected on normally busy streets, to head off disruptive protests.

Trump and his wife, Melania, will on Friday morning go to the White House for tea with Obama and his wife, Michelle, even as house movers work upstairs to swap their private possessions.

The inauguration ceremony will begin with performances by the Talladega Marching Tornadoes, the Rockettes dance troupe, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho.

At noon, in a scene not so long ago unthinkable to the political establishment, Trump will take the oath of office, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts. He will place his hand on his own Bible – a gift from his mother in 1955 – as well as a Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his first inauguration.

In an operatic tableau, standing nearby will be Hillary Clinton, the candidate Trump threatened to jail during the campaign. She received 2.9 million more votes than he did last November but lost the electoral college. Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Jimmy Carter will also be present.

Trump will become the first US president in the 240-year-old republic who has never served in the military or held public office. At 70 he will also be the oldest in his first term, eclipsing Ronald Reagan’s record.

Barrack said Trump’s inaugural speech would focus on “the issues that unite us” and claimed that the divisions from the campaign would “vanish”. “What you’ll hear in his address is a switch from candidate to president,” he told the CBS This Morning show.


David Smith in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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