As he approached the lectern, the sky creaked open. Raindrops began to fall, lightly at first, a mere suggestion of a shower, and then, as he unhinged his jaw to speak, a mild storm.
If it had been written as satire, it would’ve been bad, but it was honestly raining and dreary on the day that Donald John Trump placed his hand on the same Bible touched by Abraham Lincoln to become the 45th president of the United States of America.
It was nineteen months ago, on June 16, 2015, that he announced he was running for the office.
“We need somebody that can take the brand of the United States and make it great again,” he said then. “You know, all of my life, I’ve heard that a truly successful person, a really, really successful person and even modestly successful cannot run for public office. Just can’t happen. And yet that’s the kind of mindset that you need to make this country great again. So ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again. It can happen. Our country has tremendous potential. We have tremendous people.”
In that time, he repeatedly defied expectations, conventional wisdom and democratic norms, first capitalizing on a fractured Republican Party to win the nomination, and then capitalizing on a weak Democratic nominee to capture the presidency. This, despite sky-high disapproval numbers and losing the popular vote by more than two million.
He was unorthodox, but effective, the perfect man for the perfect storm of 2016. And now, thanks to that, Mr. Trump has come to Washington.
The day began at St. John’s Church, across from the White House. Then-President-elect Trump—a nonreligious man who admitted during the campaign that he’d never asked God for forgiveness—attended services with his family, then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his family and 300 other worshippers.
Trump walked somberly into the church, dressed in his usual attire of a dark suit, bright red tie and dark overcoat. He was accompanied by his third wife, Melania, who channeled Jackie Kennedy in a sky blue frock with matching gloves and stilettos.
Rev. Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist from the 12,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas, presided over the service, according to CNN. Jeffress, who campaigned for Trump and sometimes appears on Fox News, is best known for labeling Mormonism a “cult” and begging Christians not to vote for Mitt Romney in 2012. But as CNN reported, that’s not his only colorful opinion. He also believes Islam is “from the pit of hell,” the Catholic Church’s marketing is “the genius of Satan,” and the antichrist was aided by Barack Obama. Press was not admitted to the service, and details about the content of Jeffress’ sermon were not provided upon request to the Inaugural Committee.
From church, the Trumps stepped out of a black car at the White House, where Barack and Michelle Obama greeted them outside the door in their capacity as president and first lady. Melania extended her hand to shake Michelle’s, but the she instead wrapped her in a hug. Melania then presented her with a gift from Tiffany, which neither Michelle nor the president seemed to know what to do with. Michelle uneasily handed it to the president, who left the three of them outside while he walked into the White House to put it in an undisclosed location. They all then ventured inside for coffee and tea, another event without media access.
From there, the Trumps boarded “The Beast” (no relation) the presidential limousine so named for its substantial armor. Until then, Trump had traveled in his own vehicles (and his own airplanes), and the with acted as another reminder that after today, everything would be different. They traveled, with the Obamas, to the Capitol, where crowds had already gathered for the inauguration ceremony.
In Section 1, just below the lectern around which the powerful assembled, the media and the ticket-holding members of the public sat shoulder-to-shoulder. Throughout the campaign, Trump had cast the press as not just his enemy but the enemy of the honest Americans who supported him. But here, sitting on the black folding chairs and gazing up at the Capitol and the presidential seal, the pride of those honest Americans eclipsed any ill will. They smiled and greeted reporters. They hooted and cheered for Trump.
The speech itself was grim. President Trump is no different than candidate Trump, and he took artistic liberties in painting a portrait of the United States as a country of decaying cities and horrible schools just barely clinging to life.
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” he said. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
This felt self-serving, as though he was mentally preparing to sell any minor improvement or even just a lateral change brought about by his policies as monumental shifts in the quality of life in this country.
“We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done,” he said. “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.
After his speech, there was the national anthem, performed by Jackie Evancho, a teenage contestant on America’s Got Talent. Then the Trumps departed to a luncheon in the Capitol while the Obamas left for vacation in California. As their helicopter flew overhead while the crowd streamed out onto the street, some Trump supporters shouted impolite goodbyes.
By then the rain had temporarily cleared, but Rev. Franklin Graham had told President Trump not to worry about the weather. “Mr. President, in the Bible rain is a sign of God’s blessing,” he said, “and it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”