I’m finding it difficult to identify my feelings in response to Trump’s inaugural speech.
My first reaction was “He prepared. He’s using full sentences and not repeating himself.”
My second reaction was “This is a recycled campaign speech.”
Trump’s Inaugural Speech
That campaign speech tinge is what particularly bothered me about it. Inaugural speeches are supposed to be about reconciliation. They should say something about how divisive the campaign was, and how it is time for everyone to unite in moving forward.
Trump started with:
Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.
That seemed promising, but then he proceeded to criticize the former leaders at length:
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. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed.
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
Trump followed this up with a long list of all the things that are wrong with the country.
Later, in a direct stab at the outgoing Representatives and Senators, he said:
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.
So the message seems to be “Thank you, but not really. You sucked as presidents, and so did the entire government, and I’m your savior, come to fix everything.”
In other words, it was a rehash of a campaign speech, but with full sentences and without the repetition and meandering sentences.
Trump’s Inaugural Speech and his World View
As an ex-American, I take particular exception to his view of the rest of the world. Specifically, his statement that
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.
Really? I’m dumbfounded by the arrogance of the idea that America will become so amazingly successful that other countries will want to follow its lead.
The fact is that many other countries are doing just fine, and in many aspects, quite a few are doing a lot better than the US.
I hasten to point out that I’m not trying to counter Trump’s American nationalism with European nationalism. I’m trying to counter the sheer arrogance of “We will shine for everyone to follow” with a little realism.
Nationalism in Trump’s Inaugural Speech
I’m also concerned at the extreme level of nationalism in Trump’s inaugural speech. He spoke of “America first” and of “rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
The emphasis on “America first” is understandable, of course, but is it always right? If you combine that with his idea about shining “for everyone to follow,” what I see is the kind of attitude that helped Hitler in his rise to power: WE are superior, and THEY are at fault for our problems. Us vs. Them.
Yes, I know it’s a different time and that Trump isn’t Hitler. But the parallels are disturbing.
Trump did, here and there, try to strike the reconciliation chord, but it certainly wasn’t his emphasis.
Taking a page from 1984, Trump used a bit of Newspeak:
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
Patriotism means love for your country. If Trump is telling Americans that they should open their hearts to patriotism, that implies they aren’t already patriotic enough. I would certainly dispute that. And it’s a fine line between healthy patriotism and unhealthy nationalism.
Contrary to Trump’s claim, nationalism allows plenty of room for prejudice: prejudice against anyone who doesn’t fit into your idea of your nation, and prejudice against anyone who isn’t toeing the nationalistic line.
Trump also claimed that “We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.”
I think the black men who feel they need to adjust their routes and habits going about their daily life, hoping to avoid confrontation with the police, might disagree that they are as free as other Americans. The LGBT community, fearing that their recently-won freedoms will disappear, might disagree. Women who might lose access to the low-cost women’s health services that Planned Parenthood provides might disagree. People of color facing new laws that will make it more difficult for them to vote might disagree.
Education and Trump’s Inaugural Speech
In his only reference to education, Trump managed to insult every hard-working teacher in the US:
An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.
Since when is the educational system in the US flush with cash? And since when are its students deprived of all knowledge? If I was still teaching in the US, I’d be furious.
Religion and Trump’s Inaugural Speech
I understand why inaugural speeches include reference to God. After all, the Founding Fathers based their argument in the Declaration of Independence on the idea that men – at that time really meaning only white men – are “endowed by their Creator” with their natural rights. Obama’s inaugural speech four years ago referred to God too. I haven’t checked, but I assume every inaugural speech does so.
So Trump’s frequent mentions of God didn’t bother me. The prayers before and after his swearing-in are what bothered me.
I counted five Christian prayers from five different denominational leaders, and one Jewish prayer.
Not including a Muslim prayer, in these times of distrust of Muslims, was a mistake. It does not speak of reconciliation, it speaks of exclusion.
Trump has always positioned himself as the non-politician, as the contrarian. This speech continued that pattern.
Trump, though, confuses “politician” and “statesman.” Instead of playing the non-politician today, he played the non-statesman.
In other words, what this speech lacked, what Trump lacks, is statesmanship. In the end, he just seemed like another campaigning politician.
It’s going to be a long four years.
(You can read the full transcript with annotations here.)
Feel free to comment below, but please keep it civil!