“Trump,” Mosteller recalled, “says, ‘Well what would you do in this situation?’”
To Mosteller it was unnerving; not simply because Trump hadn’t given a lot thought to the situation, but in addition as a result of “it was evident that he wasn’t really interested in the answer.” He exchanged a look with Obama’s longtime photographer Pete Souza. “We had this realization that this was really bad,” Mosteller mentioned. “If this is the question taking place discreetly behind closed doors on day one, the country is going to be in rough shape.”
A solitary vignette earlier than a historic ceremony doesn’t foreshadow a whole presidency. But as Trump’s tenure comes to a detailed this Wednesday, fewer days are as symbolic of his time in workplace as the first: the jubilation of the followers, the dread of the foes, the bellicosity of the rhetoric, the unorthodoxy of the strategy, disruptiveness as a tactic, chaos as a byproduct, and the petty obsessions that coloured all of it.
“Jesus that day sucked,” mentioned Ben Rhodes, Obama’s longtime adviser, who was with him that day.
For the Obama group, it was all somber. Many of those that have been at the White House that day have been ending up eight-year stints. Some had slept on their workplace flooring in a single day for worry that the safety clampdown in the metropolis would make it unimaginable to get to work on time. Aides recall an intense exhaustion that combined oddly with the melancholy they felt — the thoughts jolting the physique to remind it that issues had gone awry.
“I was worn out after doing that job for eight years and was looking forward to being done with the job,” Souza mentioned. “At the same time, I was concerned for the country really, who we were turning the keys over to. It was just a weird set of dual emotions playing out that day.”
The day was not with out its routines. When Obama got here down from his residence to the Oval Office, he was handed his morning briefing ebook with a schedule memo for the day. It was thinner than regular. And all of his private stuff was gone from the room save roughly 30 or so pictures on the Resolute Desk.
At some level, Obama took a handwritten letter he’d composed for Trump out of the desk, put it in an envelope and positioned it again in the drawer. He then went again up to the residence and had a ceremony in the State Dining Room with the ushers’ workplace. They introduced him with the flag that had flown atop the White House that day.
“He was spiritually in the right space. He was ready to walk away,” mentioned a former aide with him that day. “It was a right of passage, he emphasized. That’s just how it goes.”
Shortly thereafter, the incoming president arrived and the temper tensed. There was a clumsy second when Trump left Melania behind as he walked up the steps to greet Obama. It was adopted shortly by one other when Melania introduced a present, which — whereas nicely intentioned — violated the express directions for there not to be any trade of such sort.
Inside the White House, the Obama aides nonetheless there have been nearly overwhelmed by Trump’s bravado. Mosteller recalled Trump as appearing as if he’d “just won an award.” Souza was extra cruel. “I just felt I was in the presence of the mafia,” he mentioned. “It’s kind of hard to explain. He has this way about him that just reeks of narcissism.”
The group had their ceremonial tea earlier than leaping into the motorcade to head to the Hill. Riding in a separate car from the outgoing and incoming presidents, Souza appeared round. “There is nobody in the parade stands,” he thought to himself. “That’s kind of odd.”
When they acquired to the Capitol, Trump and Obama went to separate holding rooms. In his, Obama signed his final official invoice and his employees gave him a joking applause. Then they moved to the corridor — filled with folks — ready to be referred to as out to the podium. At that exact second eight years earlier, Obama had paused and closed his eyes earlier than heading out to his inaugural crowd. And not only a fast blink both. “He closed them for several seconds,” Souza mentioned. “It was clear to me that he was saying a prayer.”
Before heading out this time, there was no obvious try to summon the divinities.
“I don’t remember him closing his eyes,” Souza mentioned. “Maybe he should have.”
Hoping to get a very good shot, Souza defied orders and snuck out onto the platform as nicely. When Trump lastly got here out, the two males have been simply 5 ft aside. The soon-to-be-sworn-in president took a pause of his personal, nonetheless temporary, and raised his fist in triumph.
“My heart just sank,” Souza mentioned. “I was sick to my stomach.”
From the vantage level of the Trump group, the day was, naturally, fairly totally different. Few if any had anticipated to win the election. So the precise act of assuming management of the White House had a surrealist vibe to it. “It was like looking over your shoulder waiting for someone to tell you ‘Stop, no you can’t do that,’” recalled a staffer for Mike Pence, who had pushed up to the North Portico via the White House entrance gates that morning. An individual concerned in the inauguration described Trump’s temper as “absolutely jubilant and euphoric.”
But even by that time, it was evident that Trump’s presidency can be unconventional. His daughter Ivanka had to persuade him not to keep in his personal lodge down the avenue from the White House the evening earlier than, and as a substitute preserve with custom by sleeping at Blair House on the different facet of Lafayette Square. His ex-wives, Marla Maples and Ivana Trump, had each requested to attend the inauguration. So Trump gave “clear instructions” to put them on reverse sides of the platform, in sections towards the again. “They had to be in the same row and same chair in case one saw the other,” mentioned one of the folks concerned in the inauguration.
And worry of punctuality was profound sufficient that Trump’s employees careworn to him that the vice chairman may theoretically turn into the appearing president for a couple of minutes if he was late to take the oath of workplace.
“[H]e loved the number 45, and we said if you’re late, you could in fact be the 46th president,” mentioned the individual concerned, “and of course he didn’t like that at all so he said he wouldn’t be late.”
By the time Trump stepped to the crowd and gave that fist pump that left Souza so dispirited, the tensions that may pervade American politics for the subsequent 4 years have been already obvious. One aide who labored on the inauguration recalled dashing house as the crowds swelled to change coats, solely to be confronted by protesters as a result of of the badge she was sporting. “I put my credentials away and didn’t advertise where I worked,” she mentioned.
Dozens of Democrats, in the meantime, had refused to are available protest — a slight not misplaced on the incoming president’s group. Nor was it misplaced on them that they’d been snubbed by A-List celebrities. Elton John had tentatively dedicated to acting at the inauguration, an aide mentioned. But after financier Anthony Scaramucci, then a vocal Trump fan, inadvertently leaked it too early, he had pulled out. Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli had dropped out after he began getting loss of life threats. Instead, the committee booked Jackie Evancho, a runner-up on “America’s Got Talent,” to carry out the nationwide anthem.
The new president’s speech solely infected issues. It was an deal with with designs for shock, not sweeping oratory. David Shulkin, who was Trump’s nominee to be Veterans Affairs secretary, watched the now president describe an period of “American carnage” and was stunned by the brimstone.
“That became a precursor of what we saw throughout the administration, which was that there were many many of those missed opportunities to bring the country together,” Shulkin mentioned.
Looking again, the Trump group argues that the extra uplifting themes of the speech—the invocation of the forgotten man and ladies—have been overshadowed by the carnage line. But when it was achieved, the crowd appeared directly confused and unnerved, questioning (not for the final time) whether or not there was some larger which means or function that they’d missed. “Well, that was some weird shit,” George W. Bush reportedly mentioned to Hillary Clinton, the most aggrieved attendee of all.
“I’ve been in a similar position for every inauguration going back to 2001,” recalled Jon Karl, ABC’s White House correspondent, “and it’s usually quite a celebration, and there’s a lot of palling around, they’re all getting together, and this is the one time partisanship is put aside and everybody’s all smiles. Not this time. It was grim.”
At the ceremonial luncheon after the speech was over, the temper appeared to lighten. Trump signed formal nomination papers and took what one individual there described as a child-like enjoyment of making an attempt to hand out pens to congressional leaders. The parade down Pennsylvania Avenue had no notable drama or surprises. In reality, one aide to Trump mentioned the president had no actual understanding of how sparsely attended (relative to different inaugurations) his ceremony had been. The notorious press convention during which press secretary Sean Spicer would declare it “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period,” would truly come on Day 2; ordered up solely after Trump watched information protection of his crowds that morning.
But, as would shortly turn into the norm, the durations of calm have been only a quick reprieve from the chaos. Back at the White House, newly arrived aides scrambled to work out the place to go and the way to make the workplace—fairly actually—work. Phones would ring with nobody certain who was to decide them up.
Trump had instructed employees that he needed to make a present of transferring swiftly. And by the afternoon, the press corps was summoned into the Oval Office to doc his first official acts. At 7:31 p.m. a pool report was filed declaring that the bust of Martin Luther King Jr. that had been on show throughout the Obama years was now not there. In reality, it was merely obscured by a curtain and a Secret Service agent. Zeke Miller, the reporter answerable for the inaccurate report, tweeted out a correction inside an hour. But by then, condemnation had been pouring in and Trump was furious.
“I spent six hours tamping down racial flames,” one staffer remembered. Trump’s marketing campaign supervisor Kellyanne Conway described the second as a harbinger for 4 years of frosty media relations. “So much of that day was a metaphor for what happened next,” she mentioned. “The press came into the office looking for trouble.”
Outside the White House, everybody else was getting adjusted to the tectonic shift in energy dynamics that had simply occurred. One former White House official recalled attending the inaugural balls, the place “a lot of random people” stored shoving their enterprise playing cards at him asking for jobs.
“There were so many people who didn’t support Donald Trump and were worried about it, from members of Congress and donors, to Bush cabinet and administration people who called,” mentioned Conway. “They’d say, ‘Oh, I was a little rough on Trump and I want to support him now.’ There were many calls like that.”
Souza and Mosteller by that time have been on a airplane experience with Obama. They stored the TVs off—unable or, maybe, simply unwilling to watch protection of the balls. There was aid, Souza mentioned, that the job was ending. “But all the while, I was just holding my breath, wondering what was going to happen during the next few months and the next four years.”
And then, a distinct actuality set in. Heading for Palm Springs, the plane was unable to land as a result of of horrible fog. It would descend after which take off once more.
“A couple of people were freaking out a bit,” recalled the former Obama aide, who was on the flight as nicely. It was so unhealthy that the now former president got here again to inform the others that they’d probably have to re-route and discover a touchdown spot elsewhere. Eventually, they did. Once there, the Obamas shortly took off in a motorcade for his or her trip vacation spot.
“There was no grand goodbye,” Mosteller mentioned. They knew they’d see one another once more.
“It was like going on a great vacation and then getting in the car ride back from the airport,” the aide recalled. “It was sobering and quiet and we knew it was just never going to be the same.”