Democracy Dies in Darkness

ComPost | Opinion

Donald Trump's inauguration was a Gothic nightmare

By Alexandra Petri

January 20, 2017 at 4:12 PM

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump wave to the crowd at his inauguration Friday. (Photo by Bill O’Leary /The Washington Post)

The sky over the Capitol is a dull, unpleasant shade of white. Only one of the five flags hanging over the inauguration stage has the right number of stars.

The red hats have multiplied. You could have sworn there were only a few hats, but when you turn to look again there are 18, 20, a whole sea of them.

They are not just baseball caps, red with a sharp slash of white letters. Some are beanies with pompoms. Some of them are blue, but not for long. When you look back, they have turned. Eventually they all become the same hat. Eventually the people beneath the hats all become the same young man who smiles like the world has just been given back to him, like a $100 bill that fell out of his pocket without his noticing.

Sometimes you smile at someone and discover that in the time it took for your smile to rise to your eyes, the hat has sprouted on her head. She was not wearing it before, surely, or you would not have smiled. Now she has the hat and your smile, too. You can never smile again.

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On Jan. 20, 2017, President Trump took the oath of office, pledging in his inaugural address to embark on a strategy of "America first." Here are key moments from that speech. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

There are only three college guys in Trump hats, but you see them everywhere you look. They are taking a selfie. You are in it, too. No matter how you twist, you always wind up in it.

In the picture you are smiling, but you are not smiling.

They were the ones in all the pictures on election night, and now they are here, wearing their red hats, smiling broadly. Their faces are always the same. They have white teeth and pale skin and bushy, definite eyebrows. Do not let them take another selfie. If they take another selfie with you, your soul will be lost and you will have to travel into a world of their imagining and become their plaything.

The women at this inauguration are all beautiful. Too beautiful. Their eyes gleam like the shiny lids of shut pianos. Their hair has been blown out in soft beachy waves. Their skin is tan. Too tan. This is the only variation in skin tone that is permitted. Their lips are red, the same color that Donald Trump says a patriot's blood must be. They are very beautiful, and their nails are smooth and bright and neat like shells so that when they are Seen By A Man they will pass his inspection. They are doing what they must.

You blink and suddenly you are wearing false eyelashes. You dare not blink again. Someone else in the crowd blinked too many times and when she opened her eyes, it was 1956 and she had to iron, iron frantically, forever.

The man in front of you was the villain in "Avatar," wasn't he? You are not sure. And so was the man in the row in front of him, and in front of him. How did this happen?

You turn your head and the three Trump Bros have come to stand behind you to take their selfie. Now you are in their picture and it is too late. They have taken your voice and put it into a smooth bright shell.

In the crowd with you is a baby with thin yellow hair. It is urgent, the baby's clothes say, that you know the sex of this child. This is required. Now you know and you will always know.

Jon Voight is here. Someone has wondered if Jon Voight will be here, and this is all it takes to summon him. Jon Voight must appear in every place where Jon Voight might possibly be.

Newt Gingrich has been sitting outside a long time. No matter: Newt Gingrich can keep himself warm.

You see Abraham Lincoln and a revolutionary soldier. They have come from another time to stop this thing, but then they heard the voice and were hypnotized. The voice said that it remembered them and noticed them and that they would never be ignored again. Now they must follow it wherever it leads.

The toilets have hidden their names. The names of the toilets must not be seen or Something Terrible will happen.

There are hats, so many hats. When did people start to wear alpine hats again? Everyone looks like they are in "The Sound of Music," but not the right part.

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Competing groups of protesters and supporters of President Donald Trump faced off across the street from Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington where the inaugural parade is scheduled to go through. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

The Cabinet files in. The Cabinet is the same old man printed 16 times in different fonts. Surely there has been some mistake. No. The mistake is in thinking that it was a mistake. You are the mistake.

Melania Trump appears on the jumbotron. Melania's dress is electric blue like an angry sky. The top of the dress is trying to strangle her, but she is fighting it. She is strong. The dress will be subdued.

There is Congress.

Paul Ryan is smiling. Paul Ryan is always smiling. Paul Ryan hears secret music that no one else can hear. If anyone unplugs one of Paul Ryan's secret earphones, his heart will stop.

Mitch McConnell is not smiling. Once Mitch McConnell saw something nasty in the woodshed, and he could never smile again.

Now it is nearly time.

Donald Trump's sons come in their limos, two by two. All the limos look like hearses, and you are the thing being buried.

Donald Trump reaches the dais and smiles.

When he speaks it begins raining, everywhere.


Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences."

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