Donald J Trump’s presidential inauguration speech today made no attempt to heal the divisions that are tearing apart the United States of America. What so many people in the US and around the world had hoped for—a well considered, compassionate, unifying outreach to citizens and politicians alike was denied. What we and they got was a campaign speech, a jingoistic America-First-all-we-care-about-is-me-and-my-supporters speech, one that implied if-you-don’t-like-it, keep-your-mouth-shut-or-you’ll-wish-you-had. Trump claimed that, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.” Presumably, he’s thinking of politicians, civil servants, presumably anyone in the pre-November 8, 2016 Congress who opposed measures to redistribute wealth by fiscal or other means—largely Republicans who have made anathema any attempt to address inequalities of wealth during the Obama years. As a member of the nation’s 1% of richest citizens, how much does Trump really care about having “the people” share any of his wealth. His tax proposals so far indicate that he intends to protect even more of the income of the 1% than before he assumed the throne!
Trump made no acknowledgement of enormous economic improvements in America during the Obama presidency as the nation was pulled back from the abyss of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Hyperbole, conflation, misrepresentation and outright lies are tools he wields crazily in his quest to create an image of the US that fits his “only I can fix the mess” pipe dream. America, like virtually all developed countries has problems, but his image of America is as tilted and stretched as a New Yorker caricature. He and his proposed cabinet represent the 1% in America, industrialists, bankers and financiers and investors who, with little or no concern for anyone’s welfare but their own, have built enormous fortunes on the backs of working people. Trump himself has brought in foreign workers, built his businesses with products made outside the USA, sometimes cheated contractors and refused to pay workers, resisted paying any tax he could get away with (it appears from evidence gleaned by investigative journalists and despite — or perhaps corroborated by — his refusal to release his tax returns) regardless of the economic conditions of his country.
After reciting his familiar and false dystopian vision of a destitute America, DJT then promised his supporters massive improvements in their lives and spoke as if those benefits would begin immediately. He promised a more militant America. He assured the “forgotten men and women” of America, that “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Like a Costco huckster selling a gallon of stove cleaner with magic ingredients, he offers an oversupply of “cure” to a problem that can be solved with cleaners we already own—and a little elbow grease. People working together. But his view of “the people” is clogged by his insistence that “those people” who support anyone else but him are the problem. There’s no compassion in his words, no recognition that many of the people he claims are struggling did not vote for him in November, no attempt to reach out to them and start healing the divide. Be sure to check again tomorrow, next week, month, or year to see just how many benefits have been realized and by whom!
The majority of Americans and thoughtful, fact-minding observers everywhere do not see the USA the way Trump portrays it and many of his supporters characterize it. (Is ‘characterize’ the right word here?) The President promised those who believe they are victims that “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. [I guess that also includes investors, bankers and financiers, and already wealthy industrialists.] We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”
Trump is a snake oil salesman, a demagogue with little knowledge of either the nation’s history or how its political system operates. He has no integrity. He can speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, shift principles in mid-sentence, as long as he detects that his audience is applauding. On the campaign trail he encouraged his supporters to see Hilary Clinton as a criminal who needed to be locked up. At his Inauguration Luncheon, he thanked President Clinton and HRC for “being there” and asked attendees to give her a standing ovation. Expect this behavioural deviance to happen repeatedly. He’s oblivious to the incongruities.
Despite touting himself as a great “dealer maker,” American’s new president acts as though he can govern alone without having to make compromises with the very legislators whom he blames for creating the chaos he claims American is in. He is in for a rude surprise, I think. While he talks about governing for “all Americans,” he clearly disregards the vast number of American citizens who do not trust him and whom he intends to force into submission on health care, climate change, and tax fairness.
He will learn, however, that voters cannot be cheated as easily as the contractors and labourers and customers and investors he has taken advantage of in business. Politics is not the same as the business of real estate (where he has had colossal failures as well as triumphs) where he is dealing with business people quietly willing to cut their losses and wait for retribution, or to be bought off if that’s the better option. Disillusioned voters, however, can be a powerful force, as the Democrats have discovered, and the Republicans already knew from 2008 and 2012. Voters don’t need to sue, at great expense of money and time. They just have to vote, and they will….
Trump’s message tries to end on a high note: “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.”
The President (so hard to describe him thus!) would have us believe that to say a thing is so makes it so, and that claiming that change will happen is the same as witnessing it. So in love with himself, so totally lacking humility, he is as certain to fail as every other arrogant demagogue who has tried to rule an enormous empire without having the majority behind him. He listens only to those who feed his egomania, his narcissism, his ignorance in matters that require great knowledge and profound thought. Think of Ozymandias, king of kings….
How long will it take principled Republican conservatives to turn on Trump, to throw up their hands in the face of his irresponsibility and intractability? How long until the simple minded among Trump’s beloved “uneducated” supporters wake up and start whining that he’s just another pol who talks like a pro wrestler and is just as phoney. His most devious opponents among the Democrats, along with millions of independent Americans, and global citizens the world over, are already plotting to do all they can to frustrate and provoke him into rash and self-destructive actions in the hope that his downfall will create an opportunity to “make America as great again as it was before he got elected” — before his hubris and the influence and pressure from his evil cronies drove the nation to the brink of disaster.
Some who oppose him will try to “play nice,” even as they cry out for justice and humanity and Christian tolerance. They will try to survive in a toxic political environment—as they have been doing for some time. They will argue, with David Brooks, that “…if people redouble their commitment to constitutional norms and practices, to substance and dignity, this thing is survivable.” In other words, we’ll all get through this, somehow, because ‘American democracy’ will prevail.’ They will be wrong.
In the end, America will be broken, torn apart by brutal incivility and discord, selfish leadership, and harsh and painful payback in all sectors of the American body politic. We are witnessing nothing less than the fall of an Empire and the almost certain re-ascendancy of an even older one — China — in Asia, in Africa, in South America. Citizens of the USA, the Humpty Dumpty of the planet, will discover that it takes far longer to put Humpty back together again than it did to smash their fragile “unity.”
For more on the fact checking of Trump’s address, see:
Fact-checking President Trump’s inaugural address – The Washington Post
Also, please read David Brooks column in the New York Times.
While he’s a much better writer than I, we are in great agreement — except for our conclusions….
The Internal Invasion – The New York Times
And read Paul Krugman in the NYT:
Donald the Unready – The New York Times
And of course this classic from The New Yorker’s David Remnick, written the day after Trump’s election victory—victory in the Electoral College at least….
Presidential Election 2016- An American Tragedy – The New Yorker