GOP celebrates Trump at inaugural watch party

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Grand Rapids – Hands outstretched toward the sky, Karen Machiorlatti-Waldren jumped for joy Friday as Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

The 48-year-old was among a crowd of nearly 200 who squeezed into the Kent County Republican Party headquarters to watch Trump’s inauguration and celebrate the departure of 44th President Barack Obama.

“It has been eight years of feeling like my family’s views don’t matter, and I don’t matter,” said Machiorlatti-Waldren, who wore an “end of an error” T-shirt that featured several small Obama campaign logos. “I have been marginalized for the past eight years. This is a good day for America.”

Machiorlatti-Waldren, who lives in Grand Rapids and takes care of her sick father, described herself as a Christian with “traditional values” who supports gun rights, doesn’t want “sexualization” brought into her 12-year-old son’s life and wants to boost border security to prevent illegal immigration.

“I don’t care what your sexual orientation is. I don’t care what color you are,” she said. “But every day for the past eight years, I’ve been called homophobic, racist, xenophobic.”

The crowd cheered as Vice President Mike Pence and then Trump were sworn in. Most joined Trump in the closing lines of his inauguration speech: “Together, we will make America great again.”

“It’s a great day to be a Republican,” Kent County GOP Chair Donijo DeJonge told the crowd, which included Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland, state Sen. Judy Emmons of Sheridan and Rep. Chris Afendoulis of Grand Rapids.

The inauguration capped a bitter and divisive election cycle. Critics continue to question the legitimacy of Trump’s win because of intelligence community accusation that Russia meddled in the presidential election but did not affect the vote totals.

Calley was the state’s highest-ranking official to revoke his endorsement of Trump when lewd comments the brash businessman made in 2005 surfaced in October. But the potential 2018 gubernatorial candidate ended up voting for Trump by casting a straight-ticket ballot on Nov. 8.

“It’s a new day. It’s a new opportunity,” Calley told reporters Friday. “To me, while I understand there’s controversy… we need to be optimistic together. We need to pull for this new president. His success is our nation’s success.”

Calley said he is optimistic Trump understands the unique role Michigan is poised to play in automotive and manufacturing innovation in coming years.

“Manufacturing is a major priority for this president,” he said. “It is my hope he will recognize Michigan as being literally the heartbeat of the next generation of manufacturing.”

Trump won Kent County, a traditional Republican stronghold, by 9,497 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton en route to his 10,704 vote victory in Michigan, the first for a Republican since 1988. He ended his campaign in Grand Rapids, packing thousands of enthusiastic fans into the DeVos Place for a late-night rally that bled into the early hours of Election Day.

Trump’s appeal to blue-collar workers and criticism of U.S. trade agreements resonated with Phil DeVries, 56, who said he lost his job at Steelcase more than a decade ago and was forced to train his cheaper replacement on his way out the door.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is “the worst thing that ever happened to America,” said DeVries, who is now self-employed and lives in Cedar Spring. He clasped his “Make American Great Again” hat against his chest and beamed as Trump was sworn in.

DeVries said he believes Trump can bring jobs back to the country, a sentiment echoed Friday by other supporters.

“We’re not dealing with the standard politics. We’re dealing with a businessman who has known nothing but success,” said 58-year-old Penny Glaesman of Rockford.

Greg Peay of Kentwood was one of the few black Michiganians at the watch party. Invited by a friend, the 34-year-old said he was not a Republican or a Trump voter. He backed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for president but said he was excited to witness the democratic transfer of power.

“We are a country that votes for our president, and he won,” Peay said.

His best-case scenario for the next four years with a President Trump?

“I’m hoping the wrong thing doesn’t get said in the next four years to cause something we don’t want to get into,” Peay said. “He’s been using Twitter since he’s been elected talking about senators and their opinions and their views. Who’s to say he’s not going to say that about the wrong country, and then that’s going to cause a problem?”

Others in the crowd said Trump’s status as a non-politician president holds both promise and peril. Change is coming, they said, but what the change ends up looking like remains unknown.

“I’m excited because Trump is not a part of the Bushes. He’s not a part of the Clintons. Obviously he’s not Obama,” said Duke Harrison, 38, a military veteran who lives in Sand Lake.

“I’m looking forward to what he brings to the table. I just hope nothing gets out of hand while he’s in office. Just because he’s commander-in-chief doesn’t make it right he can run his mouth if he wants to.”