Countdown to Trump's inauguration

Amid the pomp and spectacle, plans for disruption

Rancour of the divisive election persists, with protesters vowing to 'shut down' celebration

The Straits Times Washington, DC Bureau Chief Nirmal Ghosh gives a preview of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration ceremony.
Work is ongoing at the stage ahead of Friday's inauguration at the US Capitol, where Mr Trump and Mr Pence will be sworn in.
Work is ongoing at the stage ahead of Friday's inauguration at the US Capitol, where Mr Trump and Mr Pence will be sworn in.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In the big D. C. Armory building near the US Capitol, scores of officials from across the country scan a 12m x 18m map of Washington, DC that serves as a reference point and planner for organising Friday's inauguration of Mr Donald John Trump as the 45th United States president.

In half a dozen other locations in the US capital, activists determined to disrupt those official plans are on their hands and knees making signs and placards.

Mr Trump won the US presidency by coming across as an unconventional, blunt-speaking political outsider bent on upending the status quo after a rancorous campaign in a deeply politically divided country.

As a result, not just the US but also much of the world will hang on his every word when he delivers his inaugural address on the windswept steps of the Capitol.

"The shift is very important at this point, from campaign mode to leadership mode," says Professor Stephen Fuller of George Mason University.

"He will never have a bigger audience in a more neutral environment... People will be forgiving at this moment, and if he loses it, he will lose that population for good."

Presidential inaugurations come once every four years and in recent times, have been spectacular events.

In January 2009, Mr Barack Obama, the country's first African American president, drew an estimated 1.8 million people. The number is expected to slump to 800,000 for Mr Trump, who actually lost the popular vote by some three million votes in the election.

Amid concerts, prayers, performances and parades, Mr Trump and Vice-President-elect Michael Pence will be sworn in on the west front of the Capitol at noon local time on Friday.

President Barack Obama will be there as the reins of power pass to a successor. Despite the acrimony, he and Mr Trump have kept the optics dignified, and Mr Obama has publicly emphasised the importance of peaceful democratic transitions of power.

A grand concert and celebration are planned at the Lincoln Memorial the night before Inauguration Day. There, Mr Trump will speak in a live broadcast to the nation.

The actual power exchange begins around 11.30am at the Capitol building, when a military band plays, and 16-year-old Jackie Evancho sings the Star-Spangled Banner. Then, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath of office which Mr Trump will repeat after him. Such is the significance of the moment that Mr Obama, a gifted debater and orator, famously stumbled on taking his oath in 2008.

Later, the man born and raised in Queens to a Bronx-born father and a Scotland-born mother, with his Slovenian-born wife Melania and their family, will lead the traditional parade up Pennsylvania Avenue - to their new address, the White House.

Bubbling beneath the celebrations, the concerts, the marching bands and the bonhomie of black-tie balls, though, is a potentially disruptive undercurrent as the rancour of the divisive election persists. Protesters are vowing to block security checkpoints and the parade route, and bluntly "shut down the inauguration". One organiser, Mr David Thurston, told a news conference: "We want to see a seething rebellion develop in this city and across the country."

Even more demonstrations are planned for the day after the inauguration. More than 200,000 are expected to join a March for Women, including celebrities such as Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore.

By contrast, Mr Trump's team has had problems enlisting such so-called "A-list'' celebrities to perform for him, even causing ruptures in groups that have accepted invitations. Jan Chamberlin, a singer in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints-affiliated Mormon Tabernacle Choir which has performed at seven inaugurations, resigned rather than sing at Mr Trump's ceremony. Members of the famed Radio City Rockettes dance company also split over plans to perform.

The president of Talladega College in Alabama has been targeted with anger and insults for agreeing to have its band at the parade.

After announcing the addition of Thursday night's events with just days to spare, inauguration committee chairman Tom Barrack said: "President-elect Trump has made it clear that this inaugural is of, by, and for the American people. The 58th Inaugural will celebrate American history and heritage, while setting the course to a brighter and bolder future for all Americans.

"Above all, it will serve as tribute to one of our greatest attributes, the peaceful transition of partisan power."

Earlier, he had spoken of the events having a "poetic cadence".

"It will be beautiful," he said. "The cadence of it is going to be 'let me get back to work'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 15, 2017, with the headline 'Amid the pomp and spectacle, plans for disruption'. Subscribe