A Tale of Two Americas
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
And so opens A Tale of Two Cities and after experiencing last week’s events in Washington DC, Charles Dickens’ historical novel seems strangely apt for these strange times. I was one of those who, depending on which side you believe, attended “the most watched of all time” – or the most poorly attended in modern times – inauguration of the new President.
As a lover of both politics and communications, the events in DC were box office. The security on Friday morning was extremely high with a reported 28,000 personnel drafted in to ensure the inauguration of President Trump ran smoothly. Bag searches, metal detectors, body pat downs were all part of the rituals that greeted witnesses to the political upset of the century.
The audience of ticketed guests were advised to come early. There were a lot of fur coats. Quite a few pairs of cowboy boots. More combat jackets than one would expect at an inauguration. Many, many MAGA (Make America Great Again) baseball hats. Predominantly, but not exclusively, white faces.
There was small talk as the crowd waited for the main event. Mostly polite and interested, as people enquired how far others has traveled for the event. What they did for a living. Why they were there.
But, there was also an uneasy atmosphere. It didn’t feel like a joyous occasion. It was Tr(i)umphant.
When the MC declared that former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton were taking their seats, the crowd booed. Then a cacophony of “Trump, Trump, Trump” resounded around Capitol Hill.
When President-elect Trump arrived, the crowd, understandably, went wild. But, again, the feeling was more triumphant than joyous or celebratory.
And then there was his speech. There was little in it for the 62 million people who did not vote for him. President Trump delivered what in political communications terms sounded much more like a campaign speech, than a valedictory oration.
It was a shout out to the little guy. A rallying call to the “forgotten men and women” of America. Two fingers to the establishment. The crowd didn’t seem to think it odd that a billionaire was promising to look after the interests of “struggling families”. But then again, they voted for him. Why would they?
When the cannons went off at the end of this extraordinary inaugural address, many of the crowd visibly jumped. More than one ducked. This was emblematic of the edgy atmosphere of the day.
Jump forward 24 hours and the Women’s March. It started out as a grass-roots answer from a frustrated Hilary voter and morphed into one of the biggest marches Washington DC has seen since the anti-Vietnam protests.
Pink “pussy” hats abounded, home-made placards were in abundance with slogans ranging from the very witty (a particular favourite was “I’d Even Prefer Joffrey”) to just plain pissed off. The atmosphere was much more joyous and celebratory, in stark contrast to the day before.
It was also, in the main, a very polite protest. The marchers were quick to say “Excuse me” as they navigated their way through the crowds. A woman carrying a baby in a sling said, “Mom with baby coming through” and, like the Red Sea, the people parted before her.
But, when the speeches started, the chasm between those who attended the previous day’s inauguration and the marchers was writ large.
Of course the two sides are diametrically opposed. Of course they supported different candidates and one side lost out. Of course that side wanted to rally its troops against what they oppose, and in at least a small sense, fear.
But, that’s the thing. The gap is now so wide between those who support President Trump and those who oppose him, that it seems certain his presidency will be a Tale of Two Americas. And that’s a worry.
The stability and the cohesiveness of “United” States where half the population support a “Make America Great Again” clarion call, and the other half believe it was pretty good, or at least good enough, already must be in question.
For those of us interested in politics and communications, the Trump Presidency will be fascinating. He continues to lead news bulletins worldwide with his executive orders on walls, abortions, immigration – the pillars of his campaign – not to mention alternative facts and late night tweets.
It also underlines the need for business and professional services to have insight and political understanding of the impacts the Trump Presidency will have internationally, at least for four more years.
Deirdre Grant is Head of Public Affairs for PSG Plus