It started to rain right as President Donald J. Trump started speaking. And with the rain came the darkest inaugural address Americans have ever heard from a new president.
UNITE THE NATION
Inaugural addresses usually are written with an eye toward the sweep of American history. They build on campaign promises but pivot to the presidential perspective: aiming to unite the nation around a common vision, infused with humility and optimism.
LINES THAT ENDURE
Think of the lines that endure:
- Jefferson’s “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle”;
- Lincoln’s “With malice toward none, with charity for all”;
- FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”;
- JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Donald Trump instead gave a vision of “American carnage”—one often disconnected from fact and notably rude to his predecessors and those on that podium with him. And I feel certain our nation’s role as world leader just flew away during that speech.
This was an unreconstructed campaign speech, praising what he called “an historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.” He played obviously to his populist working class base—the “forgotten man” of his devising—while all but ignoring the need to reach out beyond those boundaries to begin to close the gap that exists in the nation, evident in his record popular vote loss and his lowest-on-record approval rating for any incoming president. The words “liberty” and equality”—the traditional pillars of American political faith were not mentioned.
In the interest of a fact-based debate, let’s look at some of the key lines from his depressive domestic tour of America today, beginning with the bunting. Trump declared “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people.” This is true and no person of any party would dispute it.
Then in one of the few moments of the speech that aimed for suggestive imagery and emotion, he complained “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
A FEW FACTS: crime and poverty in America’s inner cities are certainly problems, as they have been for decades. But crime is down across the nation over the past decade and especially in inner cities, Chicago being a bloody exception.
Calling rust-belt factories “tombstones” may have been the most powerful imagery of the speech but it ignores—as his campaign did—that GDP and domestic manufacturing are actually up in America over the Obama years.
CARNAGE IS FEAR MONGERING
These facts show that any vision of American carnage is basically “fear mongering”. The country Trump is inheriting has been improving fitfully but steadily over the Obama years. This is not a record of “empty talk,” as Trump put it to indirectly deal out the outgoing president. The facts show that we are better off now than we were eight years ago: WEALTHIER, SAFER AND STRONGER BY MOST MEASURES. And this president will be judged by those standards.
If the speech reached the bar of “philosophy” set out by his advisors’ pre-game spin it was in the arena of economic affairs. The Reagan-era conservative standards of free trade and American leadership in international affairs have been declared dead under President Trump.
Here’s the promise of an avowed protectionist president: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
Pat Buchanan or the most militant union leader couldn’t have phrased the protectionist commitment any clearer in their best fever dream.
Remember the Republican internationalism that united the party since Ike, reached its Cold War crescendo under Reagan and was extended to the Middle East by Bush 43? That’s gone, as well:
“For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
Take it all together and it looks like isolationists finally have their President. Somewhere Americans such as Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford are smiling that their phrase “America first” made it to the inaugural platform 77 years after they introduced it into the vocabulary.
President Trump should have read a History of America before drafting his speech. There have been many movements in our country that are fair bigger than President Trump’s so called movement.
Donald did made a remark – a kind remark – in the Congressional Luncheon acknowledging Hillary Clinton. He should have said that in his Inaugural Address and it would have gone far in uniting the country behind him.