The campaign, the election, and the anticipation is over. Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States. In front of the eyes of the world, the New York businessman took his place as the most powerful individual on the planet, but the main focus of the press will be upon his inaugural address. These speeches tend to be light on actual policy substance because there is plenty of time for such discussions later. As such, the tone of an inaugural address is supposed to be an indication of how the President will govern in the next four years rather than a detailed programme for governing. Trump’s, however, was a depressing look into America’s future.
Trump’s inaugural address had a tone was at times inflammatory and at times conciliatory. There was an attempt by Trump to heal divisions in society with statements about unity. In terms of race, Trump said “whether we are black, brown, or which, we all bleed the same blood of patriots”. He also said “when America is united, America is totally unstoppable”. This call for unity is unsurprising, not just because the election was highly contentious, but all inaugural addresses make grandiose statements about the importance of unifying the country. This, however, soon played a backseat role for the rest of his statements.
There was a characteristic dose of anti-Washington rhetoric. Trump said that “for too long a small group of people have reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”. The President also said “the time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action”. The overall theme of his speech was very much this idea of forgotten Americans retaking power, and there were very ham-fisted references to rusted factories to appeal to this core voting base.
Trump’s right-wing populism permeated every part of his speech. As well as appealing to his base, Trump appeal to the wider Republican base with references to being protected by the military and God. In addition, he took time to say ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ and, in a small section on foreign affairs, said “from this day forward it is going to be America first”. This combination of right-wing nationalism and inter-racial reconciliation was strange, given that these two are often in contravention of one another, but his inaugural address also foreshadows problems for the GOP down the road.
In his address, Trump expressed support for economic protectionism to protect American jobs, and thus keeping with his ‘America first’ theme, and support for infrastructure spending to put millions to work. This is problematic for the Republican Party, especially the leadership. For example, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is a well-known proponent of trickle-down economics. The scale of the investment in the economy Trump alluded to is straight of Keynesian economics. Either Trump will have to break his promise, or the Republican leadership will have to sign onto a bill that discredits their entire economic philosophy.
Furthermore, Trump’s statements about foreign policy was characteristically unclear. He said that he wanted to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth” and also said that he wanted to increase the size of the US military. However, on the campaign trail he used to interventionist foreign policy of the US as a stick to beat the Washington establishment with. All I’m saying is that bombing the Middle East so much that it glows so as to end terrorism, which incidentally won’t work, is not compatible with anti-Washington statements about disastrous interventions. We shall see what the new administration’s foreign policy will be but all I know is that Trump’s current approach is contradictory. Imagine that, Donald Trump saying something incoherent.
However my favourite bit of Trump’s inaugural address was a quote about patriotism. Do you ever watch something and then involuntarily laugh your head off? Well this happened to me when Trump showed a lack of self-awareness I didn’t think possible. About half way through his speech, Donald Trump actually said: “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice”. I don’t want to go through the list of people Trump has offended because I don’t want to waste my life going through the exhaustive examples in my head.
The fact that Trump doesn’t realise that he has been prejudicial to so many people throughout his campaign, was both hilarious and, on reflection, thoroughly depressing. Perhaps it was an attempt to put the past behind him, but by this statement’s own logic Trump isn’t patriotic, and given Mike Pence’s record on LGBT people the new Vice President either. I’m not saying the patriotism is a good thing, but Trump clearly does and to say that patriotism leaves “no room for prejudice”, is clearly false as many of his supporters (not all) are racist.
The inauguration of Trump officially starts a new chapter in American history. I think the speech will go down as the most inflammatory inaugural address ever seen, and in many ways was just like the speeches he made at his rallies. We shall see what happens in the next four years, but I don’t think it’s going to be very fun. Hopefully Trump’s presidency will see the Left, the real Left, rebuild itself and create a radical alternative to both the Democratic and Republican parties. The GOP will have to walk a very tight line between populism and extreme neoliberalism. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch the different sections of the GOP eat itself.