And for some college-age Trump supporters in the Triangle, this reality truly took hold in Washington — watching their candidate take the stage as president for the very first time.
For Tristen Adams, a first-year majoring in business administration at N.C. State University, inauguration day brought the spirit of Trump supporters to Washington.
“It was the one day of fitting in,” she said.
Adams said she was glad Trump’s speech took a professional, presidential tone.
“He definitely held back a lot more than he had at rallies,” she said.
Adams, who said her interest in politics was encouraged by her dad, said N.C. State has a larger conservative community looking to discuss and be open to political issues than some other schools.
But she noted she still keeps her support of Trump private unless it is directly relevant or brought up in conversation.
“The way (Trump’s) handled some things — even in the past few days — some of the things he said before are things that really hit home for some people,” she said Friday. “So I really just don’t bring it up unless it’s brought up.”
While she was among a greater proportion of Trump supporters at the inaugural events, Adams said the group of N.C. State students she attended with took some precautions. For instance, they chose not to wear Trump paraphernalia throughout the day out of a consideration for safety.
Such concerns weren’t unfounded, Adams explained. A friend of one of the students she attended with was reportedly hit over the head with a flagpole, wearing his “Make America Great Again” hat in Washington.
An uneasy transition
Tristan Clapham, a first-year economics major at UNC from Orlando, Fla., has attended six Trump rallies — including an Orlando stop on Trump’s December “Thank You” tour. He said he watched the months between the president’s election and inauguration with some nervousness.
“There was still a lot of doubt above my head throughout the whole transition process,” Clapham said.
As campaigns emerged to persuade electors to drop Trump in their December vote, Clapham said he just hoped that the election wouldn’t be taken away from the president-elect.
“But once he took the oath, then it was real. It kind of all sunk in,” he said.
In those first moments of Trump’s presidency, Clapham said he was pleased Trump’s message didn’t divert much from his campaign candor.
“The one thing I didn’t want him to do was just all of the sudden change,” he said. “He didn’t do that. He stuck with what won him the election, which was, ‘We’re going to have change and we’re going to get things done.’”
Clapham, who received tickets after reaching out to his local congress member, attended the inauguration with his dad.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to see it with anybody else,” Clapham said, recalling an excited 3 a.m. call with his dad on election night. “We had been to so much of this stuff together.”
Clapham said he has not experienced any physical confrontations as a response to his Trump support on campus — but he said he is careful when explaining opinions in political or classroom settings.
When interviewed by The Daily Tar Heel, Clapham was wearing a celebratory but subtle beanie from the inauguration. He said he has gotten a few dirty looks on campus for wearing Trump apparel in the past.
“Definitely I feel like an outsider, which doesn’t really bother me as much — but I feel like it could bother other people,” he said.
‘They’re still my friends in there’
Jack Pashby, a junior nuclear engineering major at N.C. State, attended the inauguration in the group with Adams.
He described the excitement of seeing the first candidate he has actively supported be sworn into office.
Pashby, who helped to form the school’s chapter of Students for Trump, said he tries to embrace an open-minded perspective.
“I tried to be as moderate as possible, because I know a lot of Trump supporters can be viewed as people who don’t really care about anybody else’s issues,” he said. “I definitely try to see other people in their own shoes.”
Pashby said this attitude carries over to his interactions with other students.
“I’m in the student senate, which is a very left-leaning body,” he said. “So I definitely know I try to refrain from political discussion in there because, you know, they’re still my friends in there.”
Clapham said he was very aware of politics’ potential to disrupt relationships.
“I’ve heard stories of friendships ending, families kind of getting torn up,” he said. “That was the one thing I wanted to make sure is that it did not affect any of my social relationships that I had with people.”
He said while he’s cautious with how he shows his support for Trump in Chapel Hill, Clapham is always glad to discuss politics with individuals of any perspective — including his roommate, who he said is more liberal.
“This place is so diverse, so many people from so many different places,” he said. “And it’s a great thing to kind of pick their brains a bit, to see what concerns they have, where they’re coming from. It’s definitely important for my individual growth as a citizen.”
Future administration politics and policy
“(Trump) hasn’t had time to show what he actually can do,” Pashby said. “I think a lot of the rhetoric he made during his campaign was definitely to bring supporters in. But as a result, it alienated some people.”
He said he expects Trump to bring it all together now, making adjustments where needed.
“Obviously, you know, he can’t be president of the United States, and be manager of his own company, and be host of ‘The Celebrity Apprentice’ and do all those other things,” Pashby said.
According to a Public Policy Polling report from January, 61 percent of voters think Trump must divest fully from his business interests — compared to only 28 percent who think it is not necessary.
Adams said there is a very clear political division right now. Walking to museums in Washington the day of the Women’s March on Washington, she said this was particularly evident.
“I had one woman and she grabbed my arm and pulled me aside, and she said ‘How can you support somebody like that as a woman?’” she said. “And I mean, I’ve had people ask me that before, and I guess it kind of drove it home when she did that.”
She said allegations of sexual assault against Trump should certainly not be taken lightly, but that organizing a day around several statements seemed a bit much to her.
Pashby said he saw the march as both a protest against the president and an expression of political opinion.
“They’re marching for what they believe in, and you know, it just happens that the person who won the president of the United States happens to be against their beliefs,” he said.
Clapham said he understands those who don’t like Trump, or who didn’t vote for him as president.
“Everyone has the right to like or not like anybody,” he said. “But what I just ask for people to do is to give him a chance. That’s it.”