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What to watch for on Inauguration Day

BY   January 20, 2017 at 8:56 AM EDT
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk out at the Lincoln Memorial during a Make America Great Again thank you concert in Washington, DC on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk out at the Lincoln Memorial during a Make America Great Again thank you concert in Washington, DC on Thursday, Jan. 19. Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Donald Trump will be sworn into office on Friday as the nation’s 45th president. The ceremony outside of the Capitol is part of a full day of festivities that includes an official luncheon, a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and several inaugural balls.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to participate in the day’s events, though not all have gathered in Washington, D.C. to support the new president. There will be several protests as well throughout the day and over the weekend. As Inauguration Day begins, here’s a guide to the first big moments of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

The speech

Mr. Trump is scheduled to give a shorter-than-usual inaugural address after taking the oath of office around noon. The incoming president has signaled that he wrote the speech; earlier this week Mr. Trump posted a picture of himself on Twitter with a pen and pad at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

Whether he wrote it or not, the speech is the day’s most important moment, as supporters and opponents parse Mr. Trump’s words for clues about his approach to the presidency.

Mr. Trump is scheduled to give a shorter-than-usual inaugural address after taking the oath of office around noon.

In a brief speech at the Lincoln Memorial on Thursday night, Mr. Trump touched on some of the central themes of his presidential campaign, promising to create new jobs and strengthen the U.S. military. But the speech also included some familiar lines of attack. “The polls started going up, up, up, but they didn’t want to give us any credit,” Mr. Trump said. He added, “We are going to do things that haven’t been done in our country for many, many decades.”

Will Mr. Trump use the same combative tone in his speech on Friday, or stick to more traditional Inauguration Day themes of unity and inclusion?

Taking attendance

In a tweet last month, Mr. Trump urged his supporters to attend his inauguration. “Let’s set the all-time record!” he wrote. But planners are only expecting about 800,000 people. That’s an impressive number — it’s about the same size as the entire population of Fort Worth, Texas, which is the nation’s 16th largest city.

But Mr. Trump is expected to fall far short of the record Barack Obama set in 2009, when 1.8 million people showed up to watch Mr. Obama become the country’s first African-American president. To some extent, these numbers are purely symbolic. Mr. Trump will be president, regardless of how many people watch his swearing-in ceremony.

Even so, the attendance figure sends a clear message about an incoming president’s popularity, and Mr. Trump, a former reality T.V. star, is highly attuned to the optics surrounding major events on national television. He described himself as a “ratings machine” on Twitter last month.

The television ratings for Inauguration Day may be high. But the expected attendance numbers underscore the deep divisions that still linger two months after one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history. They also point to the challenges for Mr Trump, who will enter office with the lowest approval ratings of any new president in recent decades.

Protesting the president

While Trump supporters gather on the National Mall to witness his inaugural speech, opponents are staging rallies throughout Washington. On Friday the protests will center around McPherson Square, though there will be several other demonstrations across the city.

Mr. Trump angered many people during the election, and all of those constituencies — minority groups, immigrants, women, and others — are out in force on Inauguration Day. The last time the country was so divided over a new president was 2001, when George W. Bush took the oath of office after the Supreme Court decided a bitterly close campaign.

And on Saturday, up to 200,000 people could participate in the Women’s March on Washington, the biggest protest event around Mr. Trump’s inauguration. The idea for the march was hatched by a small group of women, but has since attracted a broad range of opponents. Pro-Trump groups have said they plan to monitor the march, raising tensions just a day after Mr. Trump takes office.

End of the Obama era

After the inaugural ceremony, Barack and Michelle Obama will leave the Capitol grounds by helicopter, bringing an end to their eight-year reign in Washington. The departure will mark an emotional moment for supporters, many of whom will be on hand to wish the former first couple goodbye.

The Obamas will head to Rancho Mirage, California for vacation, but they’ll be back: The couple has rented a house in the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Kalorama, where they’ll live for the next two years, while their younger daughter, Sasha, finishes up high school.

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