THE first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency was marked by some vast protest marches in America and some pretty big ones elsewhere in the world. Demonstrating after an election is a strange thing to do: generally the most effective time to protest is when casting a ballot. The Americans who voted for Mr Trump will have seen the thronged streets and concluded that there are a lot of sore losers. But the “Women’s March on Washington”, organised by activists, did not feel like a protest against the result. It was more like an amble for civility.
On the National Mall, where the day before people in red baseball caps had thronged to celebrate the inauguration of the 45th president, there was happy chaos. Nobody knew where they were going or minded too much whether they heard the various speakers arranged by the organisers. There was a fierce contest for the wittiest sign (“We shall overcomb”, carried by Kate from Massachusetts was your blogger’s favourite). There were plenty of jokes about small hands, a few Russia gags (“Just Say Nyet”) and some earnest attempts at making points about policy (“Uphold The Paris Climate Agreement”), along with many Black Lives Matter and pro-choice placards.
The first group of marchers your blogger fell in with was a Catholic family from Maryland. The dad, who was marching alongside his wife and daughters, explained almost apologetically that they were not the kind of folks who habitually attend marches. But many parents had used candidate Trump’s old remarks about grabbing women by the pussy as a teachable moment and, when Mr Trump won despite it, were stuck for a way to explain to their children why. Bringing them on the march (which many children had joined) was a way to reinforce that stance by showing that lots of other people felt the same too.
In that respect, the march was partly about making the side that lost in November feel better. That’s understandable, but there is also a danger for those who oppose the president from the left here. Politics has become so much about signalling what sort of person you are that the hard work of persuading people who disagree gets forgotten. Yesterday the city was filled with ardent Trump supporters. Yet rather than try to win converts, the two sides mostly ignored each other, politely. Waving a Planned Parenthood banner in a crowd of people who are pro-choice is a political act, but it is a minor one compared with talking to someone who voted for a candidate you despise and trying to find some common ground. Those who oppose the president need to spend more time thinking about how to win over people who voted for Mr Trump and less time talking to each other.
While all this was going on, the president visited the CIA at Langley, Virginia where, before a memorial for agents who died in the country’s service, he gave a political speech in which he attacked the press. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, then used a first White House briefing to attack the press for allegedly giving the impression that the crowds on inauguration day were smaller than they were. Presidents and their administrations are not supposed to conduct themselves like this, which is of course what many people like about Mr Trump. Those marchers standing up for civility, politeness and decorum—old-fashioned conservative values—will find the next four years hard going.