WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the blocks surrounding the White House, signs reading “Love Trumps Hate” and “Build Bridges Not Walls” littered the sidewalks on Sunday, the detritus of the Women’s March protesting the policies of President Donald Trump.
Both Trump’s supporters and women and men who took part in the massive march against him in Washington on Saturday contemplated the vestiges of protest and ruminated about the convulsive first 48 hours under the Republican president.
For Mary Forster, who joined her first political demonstration on Saturday, the weekend only reinforced her worries that the country was splitting further apart after a bitter election.
“I feel like we’re getting driven farther apart,” said Forster, a 42-year-old environmental regulation specialist from Ithaca, New York. “There really is no middle any more. We seem to be losing the middle ground.”
She has voted both Democratic and Republican in the past but was motivated to march by concerns over the comments and policies of businessman-turned-politician Trump, many of which are seen by the left as harmful to women and minorities.
Like Forster, millions of women, buttressed by male family members and friends, joined marches throughout U.S. cities in a much larger-than-expected challenge to Trump.
“There used to be more things that unified us and now I feel like we are more divided than we used to be,” Forster said.
It is a view widely held by Americans. A Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday showed that 86 percent of Americans believed the country was more politically divided than it had been in the past, sharply higher than the 46 percent who held that view eight years ago, just before former President Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Democrats and Republicans concurred in their view of the division, a marked change from 2009 when more than half of Republicans thought the country was becoming more divided, compared to about four in ten Democrats.
For many observers, the split is likely to be exacerbated by Trump, who stunned both parties with his Nov. 8 victory and has made his mark in world politics with blunt, often offensive speech.
“Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday morning. He added a conciliatory note: “Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
Most of the dozens of march participants interviewed by Reuters said they had voted for his Democratic rival, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The largest marches were in states that had voted for Clinton, like California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
Trump’s inaugural speech on Friday offered little in the way of unifying messages.
He appealed directly to his supporters, painting a bleak picture of “American carnage” - a country filled with rusted factories and plagued by crime and vowed, “from this day forward it’s going to be only America First.”
The grim vision of America the 70-year-old president often evokes is belied by statistics showing low levels of unemployment and crime nationally. But Trump won many votes in parts of the nation where manufacturing industry has been badly hit and people feel left behind in the recovery.
Republican domination in Washington suggests partisan divisions will only grow deeper, at least over the next two years until the next congressional elections.
“There is no question that Trump has exacerbated the divisions that already existed in the United States, on important issues from national security to civil rights to climate change,” said Wendy Schiller, a professor of political science at Brown University.
“Dividing the country is a recipe for winning elections but it is not a recipe for successful government.”
With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress they will have little to no need to reach across the aisle. Democrats also may prefer to simply rail against Republican proposals rather than compromise, to better rile up their base supporters for the mid-term elections, political observers said.
“The ideology of congressmen in the Democratic party is to the left of rank-and-file Democrats and the same is true on the Republican side, they are to the right,” said Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University outside Boston.
“Congress makes it worse. It is not a moderating force.”
Trump supporters questioned the rationale of launching such large protests on his first full day in office, before he had much time to take policy actions.
“They are not giving him any time. They are just presuming that he is going to do a bad job,” said Kimberley Morgan, a 54-year-old laid-off teacher from Alabama.
Morgan had supported Ben Carson in the Republican primaries but voted for Trump after the retired neurosurgeon dropped out.
She resolved to wear her Trump baseball cap as she rode the subway into downtown Washington on Sunday morning with her family, a gesture she had decided against on Saturday due to the march.
“People presume all these things about you because you voted for Trump. People presume that you are racist. We are not racist,” said Morgan. “It’s hard to listen to people when they are screaming at you.”
Additional reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Kieran Murray and Mary Milliken