WASHINGTON DC — The last four days of US history are some of the strangest Washington DC has ever experienced.
The fate of public healthcare remains uncertain, although deep cuts are likely under new Republican schemes. Relations with foreign countries are even more up in the air, as Trump has dismissed every ambassador appointed by his predecessor as part of a doctrine of "America First."
Though no one is exactly sure what that means, it’s not the first time it’s been a slogan in American politics.
He has pulled the US out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, an international trade deal, but continued using drones abroad this weekend in Yemen.
He has cut funding for women’s reproductive health overseas, and on Wednesday is slated to implement a ban on refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen entering the country.
Trump has also told federal agencies to stop tweeting, for reasons that remain unclear, and has ordered them to stop publishing press releases. Two federally run accounts, NASA Climate and Badlands National Park, have defied his demands.
And someone in his White House has been snitching to The Washington Post about the factions that fight for his ear in the West Wing.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about the course of American history right now. If the last four days are any indicator, the only certainty is that it’s going to be a bizarre four years.
THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY: DAY ONE
On Friday, the day of the inauguration, marijuana legalisation activists were handing out 4,200 free joints in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood.
It was an act of protest against laws banning the drug. Last year, voters in DC legalised marijuana possession in a bid to reduce the number of people who earn lifelong arrest records for its possession. The laissez faire attitude towards pot in DC contrasts to its absolute illegality in Virginia, just over the Potomac River.
The United States, as the all-purpose cliche goes, is a land of contrasts.
The next came in Logan Circle, a more residential neighbourhood less than a kilometre away.
Hundreds of black-clad protesters, most wearing masks, had assembled as a “black bloc” in the centre of the roundabout.
They were carrying red-and-black Antifascist flags.
Sometimes called “Antifa” for short, groups like these have grown in number and volume since Trump’s election.
The black bloc set off in the direction of downtown DC.
Along the way, they chanted: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
The swarm of black figures fanned out over the thoroughfare.
One dragged a newspaper bin out from the sidewalk onto the street. Another threw a rock through a store window with a casual intensity. The hundreds-strong group picked up its pace down 13th Street.
Even as the protesters spray-painted cars and smashed car windows, the police held back as they made their way through Franklin Square. Then, when several started to take crowbars to the windows of a Starbucks, the frenetic wail of a police siren rang and officers started to descend on either side of the bloc as it made its way down L Street, pinning them in.
The police pinched in the black bloc along the entranceway to an office building, crushing them together.
Before the end of the day, hundreds would be under arrest. Reporters and photographers caught inside the bloc wound up detained with them.
Other protesters watched as their comrades stood boxed in along the building.
Some chanted: “F*** Trump’s army!” at the cops, along with “The world is watching!” and “Let them go!”
After they had encircled the police, the air filled with the blasting of whistles and the screams of the pepper-sprayed protesters.
The cops threw stun grenades, which produce a blinding flash of light and an intensely loud “bang” – the sound reverberating among the office buildings. Black bloc protesters who hadn’t managed to avoid the police pincer maneuver started to break off bits of brick and stone from the sides of buildings and hurl them at the riot police.
Then the police made a move, barreling down 12th street at the protesters. They cleared their way by waving batons and shooting pepper spray in horizontal fountains ten feet long.
This was at about 2:00pm.
Trump had only been president for two hours.
The riot police forced the protesters down to K Street, where they kept throwing bricks into their lines, after which police responded with more stun grenades.
The moment was rife with symbolism. K Street is home to DC’s multi-million dollar lobbying firms and is synonymous with the city’s influence-peddling industry.
In keeping with the anti-establishment fervour of the protest, someone set fire to a limousine parked on K Street that had already had its windows smashed and “WE THE PEOPLE” spray- painted in gold on its side.
The smoke rose high above the buildings in DC until the fire department put out the blaze and the smoke turned a gray-white hue.
So what did these chaotic protests achieve?
They stole attention from Trump’s inauguration, especially on social media, where images of people allegedly rioting pulled views away from the pomp and circumstance of the swearing-in ceremony.
For a president obsessed with his online followings, the amount of social media coverage was likely a major blow to Trump’s ego.
They also served to intimidate and vex Trump supporters who had come to see their candidate take power.
Although the protests could not stop Trump from becoming president, they were able to draw oxygen away from the president-elect’s ascendance.
THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY: DAY TWO
The United States of America was also a land of contrast on Saturday, when more than half a million people, mostly women, came to the capital in a wide coalition of anti-Trump groups, in one of the largest demonstrations the city has ever seen.
Their numbers were perhaps double the amount of attendees for Trump’s inauguration. Across the country, estimates say as many as 3.7 million Americans rallied. That amounts to one in every 100 people in the nation.
The march brought together a wide range of women’s groups and attendees from around the US.
The masses of people moved down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House, which runs diagonally through downtown, the pace a slow walk thanks to the crowds, a sea of pink hats, and a volume of mobile phones so great that service shut down near the march.
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American civil rights advocate and community activist who helped organise the march, took the stage.
In her remarks, Sarsour expressed solidarity with other women and vigorous opposition to Trump.
Her speech decried Trump’s hostile rhetoric towards Muslims and other minority groups.
“I stand before you unapologetically Muslim-American, unapologetically Palestinian-American, unapologetically from Brooklyn, New York. Sisters and brothers, you are what democracy looks like. Sisters and brothers, you are my hope for my community,” she said.
She also extolled how ordinary citizens were behind the idea and execution for the march.
“I want to remind you that the reason why you are here today is because mothers and yoga teachers and organisers and bakers came out to organised ordinary people made this happen, no corporate dollars.”
Marchers came for a number of reasons.
Lorraine Marston, with her 16-year-old daughter, was there to oppose disparities in pay between men and women, but also to encourage her daughters to “dream big” and never stop learning.
She said there wasn’t anything to be done about Trump now.
“We have to live with it but while we’re living with it I want us to take personal responsibility,” she said.
Another attendee, Sally Cooney, said that cuts to reproductive healthcare and government services, already underway, would harm those who need help most.
“I’m terrified that the most vulnerable among us, the young and the poor, are truly at risk and this government is truly for the richest one percent. We as women need to come together. We’re a majority,” she said.
And there was the need for urgency.
“I think these issues are too important to take a wait and see attitude,” she said.
As Sarsour said, these folks have regular lives, but circumstance and necessity brought them to Washington.
The Women’s March did what Trump’s inauguration, a day prior, didn’t do – bring out the people.
Risers that had gone empty the day before were suddenly brimming with people.
If Friday was a dystopian nightmare of political discord, Saturday was a daydream of solidarity.
TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY DAYS THREE AND FOUR:
But what was going on in the White House?
It would soon become clear that the former reality star turned president was worrying himself about crowd sizes.
Sunday and Monday gave a glimpse into the future of the Trump presidency, one in which the news cycle has to bear the strain of personal grudges. The Washington Post, the capital’s paper of record, suddenly became a paper-and-ink rundown of what seemed like a reality TV show.
It seemed a fitting response to a country run by a man who earned notoriety as a real estate mogul and star of a reality TV series that saw eager contestants (and celebrities) cloying for his approval.
If Lincoln had to manage battlefields, Trump, who also inspires dissent, has to manage his image.
And Saturday was not a good day for Trump’s ego, according to an almost impossibly detailed account in The Washington Post.
The picture it paints of the Trump presidency is not flattering.
“Trump has been resentful, even furious, at what he views as the media’s failure to reflect the magnitude of his achievements, and he feels demoralised that the public’s perception of his presidency so far does not necessarily align with his own sense of accomplishment,” the article states.
After word got out that the Women’s March had eclipsed his own day on Friday, Trump told his press secretary Sean Spicer to deliver a forceful condemnation of the press. Spicer claimed that the inauguration had the highest attendance ever.
“Even The New York Times printed a photograph showing a misrepresentation of the crowd in the original Tweet in their paper, which showed the full extent of the support, depth in crowd, and intensity that existed,” he told the White House press corps, who weren’t allowed to ask questions.
"These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”
“There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable. And I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways. We're going to hold the press accountable, as well. The American people deserve better,” Spicer added.
After Washington picked its jaw up from the floor, Spicer came back on Monday for another run at the scribblers. This time, he took questions, but let on that a malaise stalked the presidency.
“There is this constant theme to undercut the enormous support that he has,” he told journalists.
“And I think that it’s just unbelievably frustrating when you’re continually told it’s not big enough, it’s not good enough, you can’t win.”
During the campaign, Trump promised that America would win so much, the country would get sick of winning. The world can only wait and see.
AUTHOR: Wilson Dizard