Conflicted U.S. capital prepares to host
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[January 20, 2017]
By Peter Eisler, Melissa Fares and Dustin Volz
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Rob Cortis calls it
the “Trump Unity Bridge” - a bulky, metal 45-foot structure welded to
two wheels and bedecked with red, white and blue signs echoing
President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign themes.
He has towed it more than 20,000 miles (32,000 km) across the country.
But as he arrived in Washington on the eve of Trump's inauguration on
Friday as America's 45th president, he struggled to navigate the city's
crowded potholed streets.
"I’ve been on dirt roads that are smoother," said Cortis, who lives in
Things are no smoother for Washington - a city with a history of
welcoming its White House occupants - following one of the most
polarizing elections in modern U.S. politics. Nowhere in the country did
the Republican Trump get less support, winning just 4 percent of the
vote in the District of Columbia in the Nov. 8 election.
On K Street, best known for its well-heeled lobbyists, about 200
protesters chanted: "No Trump ... no fascist USA." Nearby, Trump
supporters - some draped in red, white and blue shirts, hats and jackets
- declared their unwavering support for the New York businessman.
Denise Hendrickson, 51, a nurse who moved to Washington when Democratic
President Barack Obama took office eight years ago, walked the streets
on Thursday with a sign thanking him for his service and proclaiming:
“We Already Miss U.” As she moved down the sidewalk, she invited Trump
supporters to talk, promising hugs to anyone who was willing.
One man wearing Trump’s signature red “Make America Great Again” hat
just smiled, took a picture and moved on. Then a middle-aged woman, also
in Trump gear, approached to talk. After a few minutes, the two women
“This city is bummed out, it’s a Democratic city,” Hendrickson said.
But Hendrickson said there was a need in the current political climate
to listen to people with different views. “We are open to having a
conversation with any Trump supporter,” she shouted.
Traci Turner, 38, no fan of Trump, arrived from Atlanta with her husband
and mother-in-law, both avid Trump supporters who got tickets for the
“We could not be more different in politics. We’ve been married 13 years
and we try to stay away from that subject,” she said. “They’re here for
the inauguration. I’m just here for the sites, just for the history.”
As Turner spoke, a stranger walked by and reminded her there were other
options for people visiting the city, including a march planned for
Saturday when hundreds of thousands of women are expected to turn up in
support of women's rights.
Some 900,000 people, both Trump backers and opponents, are expected to
flood Washington for Friday's inauguration ceremony.
Opponents of Trump are riled by his disparaging campaign comments about
women, illegal immigrants and Muslims and his pledge to build a wall on
the border with Mexico. His supporters admire his experience in business
and his promises to shake up Washington and put America's interests
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Rob Cortis of Detroit, Michigan talks with a passerby after parking
his modified Trump Unity Bridge trailer in downtown Washington
January 19, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
Cortis, 53, who has spent months driving the country with his
trailer-mounted model bridge, said the atmosphere had been cordial
despite the political differences on display across much of the
“Nobody has been really nasty,” he said of reactions to his bridge,
which features a Trump mannequin, a Statue of Liberty figurine and a
Harley-Davidson motorcycle, symbolizing American manufacturing.
“You can tell some people have a negative vibe when they see it, but
they kind of shake it off, because we’re playing positive, uplifting
music and we have a positive message,” Cortis added.
With all the different visitors, “it’s been one of our busiest
weekends yet,” said Roger, a 41-year-old cabdriver who declined to
give his last name. “They’ve been supportive of Trump, protesting
against Trump, and not giving a damn about the man,” he said. All I
know is that business has been good. Real good.”
Not everyone in the city is planning to stay in town for the event.
Preston Mitchum, 30, a gay man, plans to go away for a few days with
friends. Sweating on an exercise machine at a gym on Thursday
afternoon, he noted most of his friends are gay or members of racial
minorities – groups that generally opposed Trump’s candidacy.
“We don’t want to deal with the fact that we may have to get into an
argument with someone (supporting Trump),” he said.
On Wednesday night, Mitchum was among hundreds attending an outdoor
“dance party” organized by gay and transgender activists near the
home of Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Rainbow flags, the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
pride, have cropped up on scores of houses in the liberal
neighborhood where Pence, who opposes gay marriage and laws barring
discrimination based on sexual orientation, took a short-term rental
while he waits to move into the vice presidential mansion.
Participants at the dance party were well behaved, said police, who
reported no incidents or arrests.
(Editing by Jason Szep and Peter Cooney)
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