Politics: Trump Inaugural Address
In no particular order, these were my impressions I scribbled after the speech. I have expanded on the initial thoughts for this blog post.
1. Vintage Trump - for better and for worse. Sounded very much like his campaign sales pitch. Very direct prose with just a few moments of poetry. In the past, we have come to expect "poetry" from Presidents in big moments. Even Bush 43 who was not known as a great orator would rise to the occasion. Trump, in the speech, was very much "the guy at the bar telling it like it is." I understand he has to be true to his own style and that is proper. However, he is now president of the whole country and will need to adjust his speaking style in big moments to include some "poetry." In big moments, POTUS needs to evoke some sense of the historical context of the moment, extend olive branches to the people who didn't vote for you, and assure a watching world. On all three of these fronts, the speech was somewhat weak.
2. Instead, he largely played to his base of support with his populist and nationalist rhetoric. The 54% of the country that did not vote for him (including me) needed something from him and they got very little.
3. On the positive side, his direct prose and keeping it short was a welcome change to 8 years of President Obama speaking on and on and on ....... One should not under-estimate how much this stylistic aspect of the Trump persona contributed to his success. People are tired of politicians doing "politician-speak" and President Obama was one of its most polished practitioners.
4. However, there is plain-speaking and there is bleak-speaking. Yes, America has problems, however, excessively highlighting this was counter-productive. FDR took over during a depression and called forth "only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Instead, we got this from Trump:
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: 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 knowledge; and the crime and gangs and 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.
5. Many Obama critics mocked his "messianic" statements like: "rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," and "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." Trump's can-do optimism to "make America great again" has been a selling point. However, it runs the risk of Obama "messianic" over-promising over-stating what can actually be done. Nonetheless, it lays down a marker for accountability. How voters answer for themselves the question, "Do I think America is great again?" will affect their vote accordingly in the mid-terms in 2018 and in the Presidential race of 2020.
6. "America First" language. On one hand, there is a historical meaning of the phrase that calls back a pacifist and isolationist foreign policy mindset of the era after World War I and before World War II. That was my first reaction to hearing it. The notion of American total withdrawal from world affairs would be problematic. However, upon looking at the speech more closely, I don't think that is what Trump is thinking of when he uses the phrase. He used the phrase and then launched into a passage on economics:
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.
Of course, raising trade barriers and engaging in trade wars would be counter-productive foreign and economic policy. Whether that is what will happen remains to be seen. After this part, he gave a short statement of principles of his foreign policy:
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world -- but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones -- and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
Thus, it would appear his "America First" meaning is not the historical pacifist and isolationist foreign policy of post-World War I. However, to what extent the Trump administration plans to pull back from world affairs is unclear.
7. The one section that rose to the occasion was his closing and was the heart of his campaign:
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. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together, We will make America strong again. We will make wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.
This passage standing alone by itself is inspirational and aspirational. However, it was all the other "stuff" around Trump during the wild and woolly campaign that has spurred visceral opposition to his candidacy and now his presidency. As is often the case, the strength of a leader that draws supporters is often the trait that repels others into opposition.