WASHINGTON – Out with the old and in with the new.
This inauguration, more than ever.
The contrast in philosophies between the outgoing and incoming presidents could not have been more sharp.
But perhaps nothing symbolized the changing of the guard more starkly, more vividly and more strikingly than the women surrounding them.
That began to come into focus on a chilly, gray January morning at the Capitol after the first really big cheers and applause of the day from the crowd of nearly one million people in attendance for the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Ivanka Trump’s image suddenly flashed on the big screen and the crowd went wild.
Elegant hardly begins to describe her appearance in a simple but smart white double-breasted jacket and white trousers, with her golden blond hair let down.
She was stately, regal and the camera loved her. The first daughter was walking through the Capitol side-by-side with her three adult siblings, but the camera could not help but zoom in on her magnetic smile.
Ivanka looked like a princess descending down the steps.
Then the camera did something funny.
It jumped to an extreme close-up of a sour-faced Hillary Clinton.
And then the crowd did something revealing. They didn’t boo. Or jeer. No, they delivered the unkindest cut of all.
And the camera quickly beat a hasty retreat back to Ivanka.
Just as suddenly, the big picture zoomed into extreme focus.
Hillary is the past.
Ivanka is the future.
Hillary is, arguably, a tired, worn-out, wobbly, spent, political animal and a two-time loser in the presidential sweepstakes. Just winding up her career.
Ivanka is the successful working mom of the future who has it all, spunky, sharp, bright, fresh, happy, optimistic, excited, poised and regal. Just beginning her career.
The contrast between the two, both symbolically and in reality, couldn’t be greater, could it?
Oh, yes it could. Because … wait, there’s more. We hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
The princess was smashing.
But then the queen arrived.
The crowd actually gasped at first sight of her.
Melania Trump was a show stopper.
Her appearance on the big screen was larger than life, in every way.
Everyone expected something tasteful and elegant. This was something else.
As the initial gasp subsided, the crowd whooped, then hollered and applauded.
Then it began murmuring like a hummingbird on crack. She had electrified the audience and they were absolutely abuzz.
It wasn’t just her supermodel beauty. And it wasn’t just her top notch fashion sense.
The papers would later say she channeled Jacqueline Kennedy’s fashion sense. And their evocations of a new Camelot were all about style rather than substance.
- Daily Mail: Flawless First Lady: Melania Trump is a vision in baby-blue Ralph Lauren as she channels Jackie Kennedy in an elegant dress and gloves for the inauguration. Melania’s outfit and gloves created a silhouette which made it clear that she was channeling Jacqueline Kennedy.
- CNN: Melania Trump stepped out in a powder blue Ralph Lauren outfit that harkened back to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ iconic style. Her look drew comparisons to the outfit Jackie wore to her husband’s inauguration in 1961.
- TMZ: Melania Trump takes page out of Jackie Kennedy playbook. Melania’s powder blue dress was in the same family as the coat Jackie wore 56 years ago to the day.
This was grace personified.
A stately, poised, and stunning elegance were certainly part of it. But there was more. It wasn’t just what she was wearing. It was her bearing. Her perfectly poised demeanor.
And the crowd could clearly sense it, even if they could no more articulate it than to say “wow” over and over, which was what so many were doing.
She was a regal presence.
There was nobility.
Not because of her new station in life, but because of her carriage. The way she carried herself. Full of poise and grace.
Noble in the sense of model character, not fashion queen. It was clear this was a woman of substance by the way she comported herself, not by what she was wearing.
Almost like American royalty.
Americans, of course, don’t have royalty like other nations – but first families are as close as we get. And Melania, born and raised in Slovenia, is perfectly at home on her adopted nation’s greatest stage, and under the glare of the biggest media spotlight in the world.
And then, it happened again.
The camera jumped from Melania to an extreme close-up of her predecessor, Michelle Obama, and happened to catch her mid-scowl.
And again, the crowd erupted in gales of laughter.
It was comical but it was also telling. Could anything more sharply focus the contrast between the old and the new visions of America than the images of these women?
Ivanka scanning the vista of a bright future while Hillary looked back in remorse. Michelle glumly exiting the house she liked to tell everyone was built by slaves, while the immigrant Melania needn’t say a word to express how proud she is to be an American.
And not just for the first time in her life.
There was a lot of substance in those images, expressed without a single word.
But what about the leading man in the new Camelot? Did the septuagenarian Trump really fit the youthful JFK mold?
Well, the president will tell anyone he has great energy. Yuge energy. And he seems to be living up to his word.
But there’s another part of the inauguration story, that, while not immediately obvious, may be telling.
During the hours before the ceremony began, every time the Marine Corps band would stop, the silence was such that one could hear a pin drop.
But then, every time, a chant would begin from deep in the crowd, somewhere among the nearly million people in attendance, beginning somewhere far from the stage but rolling like soft thunder toward the front.
They were not chanting the name of the man of the hour. They were chanting the name of the star of the hour.
They were not chanting “Trump.”
They were chanting “USA.”
Again and again.
A woman seated nearby observed, “It’s like the real winner was America.”
America was their candidate. Trump was the vessel.
Almost as though America had become the new JFK in the new Camelot.
And, in his speech, Trump amplified the theme, again and again, that the real winner in November was, indeed, America.
He emphasized the election was all about “transferring power back to you, the people.”
To make the point clear, he added, “January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
“This moment is your moment. It belongs to you.”
And, “You will never be ignored again.”
That point was emphasized in another subtle but telling way that contrasted sharply with Obama in both style and substance.
Trump mentioned himself just three times in the 1,400 words he delivered in his speech lasting 16 minutes and 20 seconds. He referred to the American people 45 times.
By comparison, Obama, as is his wont, mentioned himself 207 times in 84 minutes while campaigning for Hillary during a November speech ostensibly about her.
And, to make sure it was crystal clear that there has been a sea change not just in style but also in substance, Trump emphatically uttered the Obama administration’s three forbidden words: “radical Islamic terrorism,” which, he promised, “we will eliminate from the face of the earth.”
After the speech, as Trump shook Obama’s hand, the former president said, “Good job,” either ignoring or unaware the new president had just vowed to dismantle everything he had done over the past eight years.
However, the speech wasn’t just about ending American erosion. It was about a bright new beginning. Just as did Kennedy, Trump envisioned a promising future. One in which:
“We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
“We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.
“We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
One could arguably call it Kenndyesque.
No, Trump did not ask Americans what their country could do for them. Or what they could do for their country. But he did invite his fellow Americans to enlist in a great cause.
He closed with a simple but familiar promise, one many in the crowd found so inspiring, they chanted the few last words of the speech along with the new president: “We will make America great again.”