By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Trump will be sworn in on Friday as the 45th president of the United States, taking power over a divided country after winning a savage campaign and setting the country on a new, uncertain path at home and abroad.
In a ceremony likely to be attended by 900,000 people, some of them protesters, Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence, will take the oath of office at midday (1700 GMT) outside the domed U.S. Capitol, with U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.
Trump, 70, enters the White House with work to do to bolster his image. During a testy transition period since his stunning November election win, the wealthy New York businessman and former reality TV star has repeatedly engaged in Twitter attacks against his critics, so much so that fellow Republican Senator John McCain told CNN that Trump seemed to want to "engage with every windmill that he can find."
An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week found only 40 percent of Americans viewed Trump favorably, the lowest rating for an incoming president since Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977, and the same percentage approved of how he has handled the transition. (http://abcn.ws/2jU9w63)
His ascendancy to the White House, while welcomed by Republicans tired of Democrat Barack Obama's eight years, raises a host of questions for the United States at home and abroad.
He campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist "America First" path and has vowed to impose a 35 percent tariff on goods exported to the United States by U.S. companies that went abroad.
Trump's desire for warmer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and threats to cut funding for NATO nations has American allies from Britain to the Baltics worried that the traditional U.S. security umbrella will be diminished.
In the Middle East, Trump has said he wants to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at the risk of angering Arabs. He has yet to sketch out how he plans to carry out a campaign pledge to "knock the hell out of" Islamic State militants.
The inaugural festivities may have a more partisan edge than usual given Trump's scorching campaign, and continuing confrontations between him and his Democratic critics over the new president's pledge to roll back many of Obama's policies and his take-no-prisoners Twitter attacks.
More than 50 Democratic lawmakers plan to stay away from the proceedings to protest Trump, spurred on after he derided U.S. Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a hero of the civil rights movement, for calling Trump an illegitimate president.
Thousands of anti-Trump protesters were expected among an inauguration crowd that organizers estimated will be upwards of 900,000. Many protesters will be spilling into the streets of Washington on Saturday when a "Women's March on Washington" is planned. Protests are also planned in cities abroad. [nL1N1F90JV]
Trump, whose Nov. 8 victory stunned the world, will launch his presidency with an inaugural address that will last about 20 minutes and that he has been writing himself with the help of top aides. It will be "a very personal and sincere statement about his vision for the country," said his spokesman, Sean Spicer.
"He'll talk about infrastructure and education, our manufacturing base. I think it's going to be less of an agenda and more of a philosophical document - a vision of where he
sees the country, the proper role of government, the role of citizens," Spicer told reporters.
Trump's to-do list has given Republicans hope that, since they also control the U.S. Congress, they can quickly repeal and replace Obama's signature healthcare law, approve sweeping tax reform and roll back many federal regulations they feel are stifling the U.S. economy.
Democrats, in search of firm political footing after the unexpected defeat of their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, are planning to fight him at every turn, deeply opposed to his anti-immigrant rhetoric from the campaign trail and plans to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump's critics have been emboldened to attack his legitimacy because his win came in the state-by-state Electoral College, which gives smaller states more clout in the outcome. He lost the popular vote to Clinton by about 2.9 million votes.
"Any time you don’t win the popular vote but you win by the Electoral College it makes people come unglued," said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. "It angers people that somebody can win the popular vote but you're not president."
Trump critics also point to the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia used hacking and other methods during the campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump's favor. Trump has acknowledged the finding - denied by Moscow - that Russia was behind the hacking but said it did not affect the outcome of the election.
To his supporters, many of them working-class whites, Trump is a refreshingly anti-establishment figure who eschews political correctness. To critics - including Obama who during the campaign called Trump temperamentally unfit for the White House - his straight talk can be jarring, especially when expressed in tweets.
But while a Wall Street Journal opinion poll showed a majority of Americans would like Trump to give up on Twitter, the new president said he will continue because the U.S. news media does not treat him fairly.
"Look, I don't like tweeting," Trump told Fox News. "I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it's my only way that I can counteract."
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry)