Six Things About Trump’s Inauguration
Sunday, January 22nd, 2016
By Reed Galen
I awoke Friday with butterflies. As a scion of DC politics and a long-time practitioner of it, Inauguration Day, regardless of president or party, always leaves me excited and appreciative of the country in which I live. As the live feeds scrolled from Blair House, where I spent endless days in 2001 eating finger sandwiches, to the North Portico of the White House, the gauzy sweetness of fond memories had me believing that we were all going to be okay. President Donald Trump took the oath of office and the ruffles and flourishes rang out. “Hail to the Chief” blasted from the military band. The thunder of the 21 gun salute from Army howitzers put me a peak patriotism. Then President Donald Trump started talking.
1. Page One
To all my friends, colleagues and acquaintances in politics and to all those around the country reading these words, here’s what you must do. Open your mental binder of everything you believe you know about our country, the White House, the presidency, the media and its role; take all that knowledge and those biases and stuff it on a bookshelf next to the Encyclopedia Brittanica. It’s reference material now. Go back and look at it when you have a question about history, or precedent, but our collective knowledge is no longer able to help us understand, predict or define the goings on of this new White House. We must start writing new chapters, and quickly, on what it means to live in Trump’s America.
2. The Speech
I didn’t need a media report to tell me that White Chief Strategist Steve Bannon helped write Trump’s inaugural address. It was dripping with Breitbartian dystopia. The speech, in fact, was not even particularly original for Trump. To me, the address was an echo and amplification of the speech he gave in Cleveland, Ohio as he accepted the Republican nomination for president. Where Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 address exhorted, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Trump might as well have said, “We have nothing to fear but everything and everyone.”
While he did lay out his economic agenda (though the Obamacare repeal was notably, but not surprisingly absent) it was his continuing desire to fight the campaign that won him the White House that was most striking. He hit the Washington establishment hard, an easy applause line, but then went inside the Capitol and palled around with them for the next two hours. While several observers said “Trump knows his audience,” that may be true — but he apparently believes them so stupid that he can say one thing before the world and another thing behind closed doors and no one will hear about it (hint it’s 2017, there are no secrets anymore.)
3. The Old World is Dead
During the America First portion of his address, President Trump did something really quite remarkable. He broke with 70 years of American national security strategy and foreign policy. In just a few paragraphs, he laid waste to the North Atlantic Treaty, left our allies more uncertain than they were under President Obama (no mean feat) and gave Russia and China the high sign to do as they wish within their spheres on influence.
Far from “containment” Trump illustrated his belief in the principle of “might makes right.” If you’re big and powerful, you go ahead and do what you do; we’ll be over here doing our thing. As Thucydides wrote in his History of the Peloponnesian War (5th Century BC) “The strong do what they can and the weak do what they must.” How long before the United Nations (never a fan myself) becomes the next League of Nations; an international body with no mission and whose strongest members look out for themselves, and look the other way when necessary.
4. The Madding Crowds
I don’t care how many people attended Friday’s inaugural festivities. I don’t care how many people showed up for the marches yesterday. I’m glad Americans on both days felt compelled to make their feelings heard. Comparing Trump’s attendance to that of Obama in 2009 is an unfair comparison: Obama at the time represented a first in American political life — a first that many African Americans thought they would never see. Perhaps more disappointing about the crowds on Friday was they were a physical indication of how divided we are. Folks didn’t just stay away. They stayed away in droves. While the DC region is very blue, there are still hundreds of thousands of loyal, long-time Republicans within 50–100 miles of the National Mall. They didn’t come. Anecdotally, my Facebook and Instagram feeds showed many long-time Republican operatives thousands of miles away from the capital, leaving only the superheated core of supporters whose half-life propelled Trump’s candidacy and ultimately his victory. Friday was their day.
5. The Enemy of my Enemy is My Enemy
There is no person and no institution the Trump White House will not fight with. There is no “alternative” fact, regardless of size or significance, that they will not defend vigorously in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When the time comes, and they are coming soon, the new president and his staff will fight with Republicans and Democrats alike. They will continue their vilification of the media because it’s an easy win and it presses the button of outrage on their base of support. President Trump is a highly transactional person; this is not unusual, or even a bad thing, in someone who negotiates business deals for a living. But calling Chuck Schumer a “clown” one day and hoping he’ll cut an infrastructure deal with you the next seems a bridge too far.
At some point, Trump will unload on Congressional Republicans; it doesn’t matter what the issue is, and Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell will have to start (within about six months) deciding how they’re going to be protect their majorities in the 2018 midterms. I hope everyone in Washington got new puppies for Christmas; there don’t appear to be a lot of budding friendships.
6. An Uncertain Future
Presidencies take on their own inertia; halting at first and then more rhythmic as the new president and their advisors settle into office. As noted above, though, it is, on Day 3, hard to see how the new Trump White House finds cadence or is able to think strategically when the man at the top constantly squabbles on social media about meaningless issues. While the new Trump Administration may believe that fighting with the media on a daily basis belittles them, it also gives the press the opportunity to ignore the policy and political goals a White House sets. Rather than discussing the Obamacare repeal, or infrastructure, Trump himself has ensured that the media covered mostly crowd sizes, his bizarre speech at the CIA and his new press secretary’s failings with the truth.
Uncertainty in individuals produces stress. That stress creates its own set of problems. Uncertainty in institutions creates stress, as well. And what do both people and institutions do when anxious or tense? They pull back from the stressors. Whether they be Americans observing and participating in the political process, or America’s business community, no one likes to look out their front window and see only inky blackness. Trump, must, if such a thing is possible, return at least a bit of stability to the world he has so profoundly rocked. Otherwise, we’ll all just be dog paddling and marking time.
Copyright 2016. Jedburghs, LLC.
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