Inauguration Day. It should be one of the happiest and easiest days of a Presidency. After all, it’s really just about swearing an oath, parading through downtown Washington and figuring out how to get to 14 balls in one night. It’s supposed to be one of the best and most exciting days for any new President. Was it for Donald Trump?
On January 20, on his first official day as the Commander-in-Chief, Trump seemed focused on only one thing – how many people showed up to watch him take the oath of office. Trump and his team seemed determined to prove there were more people there than the media reported on, and that there were more people there than attended the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Leading up to the day, many people wondered what the turn out would be, given Trump’s unpopularity among Americans. Reporters talked to hard-core Trump supporters who couldn’t wait to get to Washington to watch history be made. They also talked to many people who planned to go to Washington – but to protest his swearing in, not to witness it. In fact, the Women’s March, planned for the day after the inauguration, received more press coverage than the main event in many media publications.
Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 was attended by an estimated 1.8 million people. The latest estimates for Trump’s event had fewer than 900,000 in attendance. The numbers are based on several calculations, including overhead pictures of crowds in front of the U.S. Capital and National Mall. Side-by-side pictures of 2009 compared to 2017 showed significantly fewer people in the crowd during Trump’s swearing in.
Left – 2017 Inauguration of Donald Trump Right – 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama
Photo Credit – DPReview
Trump was outraged by what he considered to be false reporting of the numbers. He even went so far as to reportedly call the National Park Services Director the next day, ordering him to produce additional photographs in front of the Capital showing that the crowd had been larger than reported by the media. (Washington Post, Jan 26, 2017).
In an interview with ABC News Anchor David Muir, Trump said, “Now, the audience was the biggest ever, but this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive.”
While the numbers were debated on January 20, the story exploded the next day when Sean Spicer, the President’s Press Secretary, made the number of attendees his focus for the first press briefing of the new administration. Spicer lashed out at reporters, telling them their numbers were wrong, the estimates were off and the pictures didn’t tell the whole story. He claimed it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe. These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” (The Guardian, January 22, 2017).
When pushed on the numbers and Spicer’s claims during the regular Sunday morning political shows, one of Trump’s key advisers, Kellyanne Conway, coined a new phrase while trying to defend Spicier. She said that he had not lied, but had merely presented “alternative facts.”
At the end of the day, does it really matter? Does anyone really care or will anyone remember how many people attended this event? To most people, the answer is no. But it says a lot about Trump that is matters so much and so deeply to him.
Here is a man who has been elected as the President of the United States, a feat accomplished against steep odds. Here is a man who is now Commander-in-Chief, giving him operational command and control over the nation’s military forces. Here is a man charged with oversight over one of the world’s superpowers.
Yet all he seemed interested in was numbers. How many people came to my party? Did more people come to my party than to the party of the last guy? Am I more popular?
Here is a man who should have been enjoying one of the best personal and professional days of his life. Instead, he came across as petty, obsessed and a bully. Hardly the behaviour you would expect from the US President.
Photo Credit of President and First Lady – Official