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Washington Witnesses Historic Week of Change


Washington is a city in transition this week as President Barack Obama prepares to give way to his successor, President-elect Donald Trump. Think moving vans, ball gowns and security fences as excited Trump supporters flock to Washington to celebrate the inauguration of the 45th president.

Anti-Trump protesters also are expected to be out in force before, during and after the Friday inauguration.

The latest polls point to one of Trump’s biggest challenges as he prepares to assume office. New surveys by CNN/ORC and The Washington Post and ABC News have Trump’s approval percentage in the low 40’s, making him the least popular president to take the reins of power in decades.

By contrast, Barack Obama had a 79 percent approval rating when he took office, while George W. Bush came to the White House with a 62 percent favorable rating.

On Twitter, Trump quickly dismissed the latest polls as “rigged,” noting that the same pollsters also conducted “phony” surveys during last year’s election.

Obama leaves on high note

In contrast to Trump, President Obama registered 58 percent approval in the latest Gallup poll, a source of both pride and wistfulness among his Democratic supporters.

Obama has tried to accentuate the positive during his final weeks in the White House. This included his own, lengthy summing up of his legacy in a farewell address to supporters last week in Chicago.

“For those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this work and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed,” Obama said.

City in transition

In Washington, the ritual of preparing for Trump’s inauguration has been well under way, complete with stand-ins rehearsing the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, where he will be sworn in.

Preparations at the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C., Jan 17, 2017. (Photo: B. Allen / VOA)
Preparations at the U.S. Capitol for the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, D.C., Jan 17, 2017. (Photo: B. Allen / VOA)

At a news conference last week, Trump promised his inauguration would be memorable. “The 20th [of January] is going to be something that will be very, very special, very beautiful. And I think we are going to have massive crowds because we have a movement. It is a movement like the world has never seen before.”

Organizers expect about 800,000 will turn out for the inauguration and parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, roughly the size of the crowd for Obama’s second inaugural four years ago, but well short of the estimated 1.8 million who turned out to see the country’s first black president sworn into office in 2009.

Political divisions on display

Trump’s Friday inauguration already has sparked protests among those opposed to his plans to tighten immigration and do away with Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

More than 50 congressional Democrats have decided to stay away, fueled in part by a feud between Trump and Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., third from left, accompanied by fellow lawmakers, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., third from left, accompanied by fellow lawmakers, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 23, 2016.

As he prepares to take office, Trump faces an enormous challenge in trying to unify the country, according to political analyst Michael Barone with the American Enterprise Institute.

“I think Donald Trump faces probably a greater challenge, to the extent he wants to do that, than the last three presidents, each of whom faced a significant challenge in that regard,” said Barone, who acknowledges he was surprised by Trump’s victory in November. Barone was a guest on VOA’s Press Conference USA.

Press and Twitter

Trump has signaled an aggressive approach to dealing with the media. During last week’s news conference, he refused to recognize a CNN correspondent, angered by that network’s reporting of alleged Russian attempts to stockpile compromising information on Trump.

“No, not you. Not you. Your organization is terrible,” Trump said as the correspondent insisted he had a right to ask a question.

Trump’s skeptical view of the press and his reliance on Twitter as his chief form of communication present Washington with a startling new reality, said National Journal contributing editor Tom DeFrank.

“Here is his operating style. He loves being in the center of the maelstrom. He loves chaos because he knows at the end he is going to make the decision and that’s it,” DeFrank said on VOA’s Issues in the News.

“He’s a showman. He’s an impresario. He’s a maestro and he does it very, very well. Now the question is, does that serve his purposes as president?”

Even though his poll ratings are low, Trump still can count on firm support from his political base, according to University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato.

“As always, as we learned during the campaign, Trump’s followers will believe absolutely anything he says. And if they don’t, they simply don’t care.” Sabato spoke to VOA via Skype.

Change already has come

Trump’s style of communicating and his Cabinet picks have demonstrated a sharp contrast with the outgoing president.

“There is the change that Donald Trump brings about with his style,” said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “I mean, Donald Trump is very different than any other president in terms of his communications and in terms of his being unafraid to wade into controversy. It will certainly not be a dull time.”

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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