I Was at Trump’s Inauguration. It Was Tiny.
By Dave ZirinTwitter
January 23, 2017
On Friday, I spent roughly nine hours—from 6 am to 3 pm—on the streets of drizzling Washington, DC, inside and outside the Secret Service checkpoints at Donald Trump’s inauguration. I have been to every inauguration since 1997, gauging the size and enthusiasm of the crowds. It’s fun and a perk of living in DC.
I wasn’t planning to write about what I saw on Friday until I saw White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer say on Saturday, “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” Then, as his voice shook and his face became mottled, he shouted, “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” The next day, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said that Spicer was merely stating “alternative facts.”
These are not “alternative facts.” These are lies. This is an attempt at “gaslighting”: manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their sanity. It’s unconscionable behavior for an anonymous Internet troll, let alone the press secretary of the president of the United States.
It’s one thing for a campaign to say things that are demonstrably untrue. That’s been the reality for as long as we’ve had campaigns. But it is chilling when people who hold the levers of power will look straight at a bank of cameras and lie.
So here’s the straight truth from someone who walked every inch of the inaugural ground on Friday. This was the smallest inauguration I’ve ever seen. I was tweeting that and saying it on camera to Democracy Now! during the day on Friday before I heard those observations justified by both aerial shots and Metro rider statistics. I said it because I saw the empty stands that were supposed to be filled with throngs of Trump supporters. I said it because I saw how easy it was to ride public transportation and drive into downtown. I said it because of the surprisingly sparse smatterings of red baseball caps as well as my conversations with local souvenir salespeople who were overloaded with “Make America Great Again” merchandise that wasn’t moving. It was obvious. The people just weren’t there.
In addition, the Secret Service and TSA personnel in charge of the checkpoints, both groups maligned by this administration, were cracking jokes about the president-elect as we were going through the metal detectors. One TSA agent even took a button from me that said, “Solidarity Trumps Hate.” He wasn’t confiscating the button. He took it to wear (“later,” he told me). If it wasn’t for the thousands of protesters who came out for both permitted and non-permitted demonstrations, the day would’ve had no life at all.
I know many are making jokes about Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and their embrace of “alternative facts.” On one level, you laugh to keep from losing your mind. But jokes alone are not going to cut it right now. It would’ve been so easy for Sean Spicer to say, “It was a rainy Friday. The crowds were small. Time to get to work making America great again.” The fact that they can’t admit something so small raises the terrifying prospect of what they will say when the question is not about crowd sizes but whether or not to go to war.