Introduction

Following the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, one of the topics being discussed (among many) has been the size of the crowd attending the inauguration. This has some people asking, “What does it matter?” There are several reasons why this has become an issue.

Disclaimer

This document is provided as an impartial inventory of reasons why the inauguration attendance numbers became an issue. It’s not intended to defend Donald Trump or criticize those who oppose him. For an inventory of concerns about Donald Trump, read “Concerns About Donald Trump as President.” Those issues are left out of this article since they are assumed to be common knowledge at this point.

Summary

In part, this became an issue because Trump made it an issue, and that’s an important lesson for everyone to learn. Getting defensive about something, and making a big fuss about it, will most likely result in greater public awareness and scrutiny. If Trump’s team had not insisted that his inauguration was the biggest ever in the history of the United States, it’s likely this would not have received much media attention. Also, the competitiveness with past presidents, such as Barack Obama, made it an even bigger target, and caused some public scorn. There are plenty of valid reasons why it would have had reduced attendance, such as the weather and the increased availability of live online event viewing.

1. Trump’s Legitimacy

Among those who oppose Trump, there’s an understandable desire to show he has little popular support, that he won because of election manipulation by the Russians, and is therefore an illegitimate president. Helpful to this narrative is bad turnout at the inaugural speech.

Having been accused of an illegitimate win, Trump and his team understandably do not want crowd attendance underrepresented. Despite having filled stadiums with supporters throughout the election, having won the primaries, and having had a good showing in the general election, there are still some people who diminish his popularity.

2. Boycott Message

Republicans, Democrats, and others boycotted the inauguration as a protest of the many offensive statements and actions by Trump during and before the election. The boycott was a valid way to show disapproval, and reflected an overall dissatisfaction in the nation with many of the unacceptable things Trump has said and done. The size of the crowd, which has been proven to be much smaller than other inaugural events, is an additional reminder that Trump didn’t entirely win over our nation’s leaders or citizens.

3. Trump’s Mandate

Among those who are opposed to Trump’s agenda, there’s a desire to show that he does not have a mandate from the people. Indeed, much of what Trump proposed, is not even supported by every person who voted for him, and some of what Trump proposed doesn’t even seem to be supported by Trump post election.

In order to restrain Trump from moving forward with his agenda, it’s effective to show at every opportunity that Trump’s agenda is not supported. This is done by contrasting poor turnout at the inauguration with millions of people protesting the following day.

4. Media Coverage

A recurring theme during Trump’s campaign was his claim that the media was unfair in how they covered his events — especially with this issue of not showing the crowds.

At just about every event he would say to the camera, “Show the crowd. Go ahead. Show the crowd,” and then he’d turn to the crowd and say, “They won’t do it. They won’t show how many people are here at this event. If we had a fight or protestors, then they’d move their cameras to show the fighting. I love my protestors.” This was sort of a banter between Trump and the media at many of his events.

So, with his inauguration day speech, for some in the media to not provide an accurate portrayal of those in attendance, or to underrepresent those in attendance was kind of a slap in the face. This is why the issue mattered so much to Trump and his team.

5. Counterproductive Activism

Some liberals argue that ‘well-intended’ attempts by the media to misrepresent Trump and favor the left is counterproductive because it will often be identified as misleading or fake news, which then produces the opposite of the desired outcome, causing a loss of respect, trust, and support among moderates and independents. This is what’s referred to as counterproductive activism. Those who don’t want to be having this same discussion in four years are trying to look for ways that progressives can be as effective as possible. One way is to pressure media to be spot-on accurate and fair in their reporting.

6. Wrong Focus

There is some criticism of the left, from the left, about how the left is obsessing over Trump. They would say that instead of arguing about Trump’s popularity, those among his opposition really need to go back and figure out what they did wrong that caused them to lose the election, and try to do better next time – a point that was made by the now famous Jonathan Pie commentary.

7. Because We Ask

Quite often discussions arise, get expanded upon, amplified, and elevated simply because someone said, “Why is everyone talking about attendance at Trump’s inauguration?” Which continues the discussion further.

Comments and Suggestions

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Document Revisions

  • 23 Jan 2017 @ 5:30 PM. Based on reader feedback, a summary was added to the article, and the points were expanded upon so as not to be incorrectly interpreted as critical or judgemental of those who opposed Trump.
  • 23 Jan 2017 @ 5:49 PM CT. From elsewhere on this website, a writing about the disputed inauguration attendance is copied and pasted below.
  • 23 Jan 2017 @ 6:05 PM CT. The reader feedback section was added with a comment from a Facebook reader.

Reader Feedback

“I am sorry to see your piece come from a place of defending/advocating for Trump and disparaging those who find numerous things troubling about him — a group that includes many Republicans (some of whom voted for him anyway and some who did not). The primary issue of consequence here, and the one the media are addressing, involves Trump’s propensity to lie — including regarding items like this of relatively little consequence. An independent fact checking organization found that Hillary’s statements were untrue 27% of the time. Trump’s were untrue 70% of the time. Many were willing to overlook his narcissistic propensity to lie during the campaign as something that those running for office do (see Hillary’s 27%). The issue was whether he would change this behavior once actually functioning as president. His rather bizarre presentation to the CIA in front of the wall commemorating agents killed in action (“Did you like my speech?” and inaccurate statements about crowd size) left all who are following his performance with the disappointing conclusion that, no, he’s not going to change his ways in this regard. What left the media perhaps even more upset was when Trump’s press secretary went before the White House press corps and insistent that “facts” that were easily disproved were in fact true — and then left, refusing to take questions. It’s not easy being a press secretary to a president, but the reporters, and I, am unaware of this brazen approach by his predecessors. I do not believe the media should be faulted — as somehow “anti-Trump” — for reporting the truth; nor do I think they should be faulted for pointing out — when he responds with hostility, and lies, in response to their truth — that his statements are not accurate. It is Trump who brought this one on himself, and is going to continue to create difficulties for himself — and our nation — if he is unable to reform this behavior.” ~ Nick J., 23 Jan 2017 at 5:25 PM via Facebook

Regarding Disputed Attendance Numbers

The above article is not intended to determine how many people attended the inauguration, or whether Trump’s inauguration was bigger than Obama’s. With regard to the attendance, the following news release from Reuters provides a fairly accurate summary:

In an unusual and fiery statement on Saturday night, White House spokesman Sean Spicer lashed out about tweeted photographs that showed large, empty spaces on the National Mall during the ceremony on Friday.

“This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said in a brief statement. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm about the inauguration are shameful and wrong.”

Washington’s city government estimated 1.8 million people attended President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration, making it the largest gathering ever on the Mall.

Aerial photographs showed that the crowds for Trump’s inauguration were smaller than in 2009.

Spicer’s rebuke followed a larger-than-expected turnout for women’s marches protesting Trump across the United States on Saturday, including at the flagship event in Washington, where a crowd of hundreds of thousands clogged the streets and appeared to be larger than those who came for Trump’s inauguration.

Spicer, who did not take questions from reporters, said spaces for 720,000 people were full when Trump took his oath.

It’s fair to say that Barack Obama’s inauguration drew a larger crowd, which suggests that claims from the Trump administration were false — that theirs was the biggest inauguration ever. So for those making the point that the Trump administration exaggerated the number of people in attendance, the facts tend to support that point. We can see from the Reuters photos below, Barack Obama’s inauguration did not have any structures in the area where attendees were. So, there would have been no physical way possible for as many people to attend the Trump inauguration. The Trump administration eventually conceded to this fact.