From the television pictures, it looked as if rather more people turned out in Washington for the anti-Trump demonstration on January 21st than for the Presidential inauguration the day before. Mr Trump’s press officer disputes that, vociferously. On page 13 of the Sunday Times there is a picture of the Mall taken from the President’s viewpoint which would suggest he is right, so who can tell? I listened to the President’s inauguration speech, just as I had listened to his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination back in July (was it really that long ago?) and, just as then, I got hold of a transcript of the speech and read it carefully. I specifically wanted to see if there was anything in it that would make me take to the streets, even if I were to stop short of shoving a trash can through a shop window – which as a gesture of protest seems rather non-specific.
Here is a digest. See what you think.
- Thank you.
- The national effort to rebuild the country will face challenges, but we will get the job done.
- Expression of gratitude to the Obamas for help (“magnificent”) during the transition.
- We are returning power to the people. This is your day.
- Washington’s elite has flourished at the expense of the people; not any longer.
- Americans want great schools, safe neighbourhoods, and good jobs…
- Right now they have failed education, crime, gangs, drugs, and unrealised potential.
- Their pain is our pain. We share one heart, one home, one glorious destiny.
- We have spent trillions overseas while US infrastructure has decayed. Factories have closed.
- Our middle class wealth has been redistributed across the world.
- “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first – America first.”
- Protection (of borders, products, companies and jobs) will lead to prosperity and strength.
- We will build new roads, highways, bridges, airports, tunnels and railways.
- We will get people off welfare and back to work. Buy American and hire American.
- We will seek friendship with other nations but not seek to impose our way of life on anyone.
- We will reinforce and form old and new alliances.
- We will unite the civilised world to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism.
- “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America.”
- “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
- Speak openly, debate disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
- There should be no fear. We are protected by the military, law enforcement, and God.
- Think big; dream bigger. No more empty talk; now arrives the hour of action.
- We will unlock the mysteries of space, eradicate disease, harness tomorrow’s technologies.
- “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
- Our children are infused with the breath of life by the same Almighty Creator.
- And yes, together, we will make America great again.
After the speech I think I heard President Obama say to President Trump, “Good job.” The centre-left liberal press has been less magnanimous, saying the speech was pedestrian, lacking the oratory of Lincoln or Kennedy, failing to reach out to political opponents to bring the country together. In failing to offer an olive branch, it is said that the President is being less than presidential, merely repackaging slogans as if he were still on the campaign trail.
I think of the speech as being like a pep-talk a CEO would make to his company. That is hardly surprising considering President Trump’s background. It’s a let’s-kick-ass Ra-Ra-Ra talk. He might have given it in a football stadium with cheerleaders behind him. He was uncompromising about the contrast between the political elite, and the poor and dispossessed of the nation, but it never got personal. I doubt if anybody on the Hill was really offended. The speech’s unifying theme is Patriotism. It’s an invitation to everyone – and in this sense the speech was intended to be unifying – to join the team. We might be snooty about the choreography on this side of the Pond, but in 2008 at the time of the financial crisis, David Cameron and George Osborne tried to invoke the same spirit, if in a more buttoned-up way. “We are all in this together.” If President Trump thinks of his nation as a conglomerate, “America Inc.”, this explains why he is hypersensitive to dissent. He can’t understand why a loyal employee wouldn’t want to back the will of the Executive Board. George W. Bush had a similar outlook with respect to the War on Terror when he said, “You are either with us, or against us.” He couldn’t accept that somebody might be critical while still being a friend.
But looking through the annotated points of the speech above (and I don’t think I’ve missed anything substantial out) it’s hard to find anything of itself sufficiently threatening or sinister that would make me take to the streets. It’s pretty main-stream stuff. It’s interesting what he missed out. Nothing about building the wall, nothing about climate change denial. The points that made me a little queasy are: 12, maybe 14 (but then not so long ago “Buy British” was a favourite slogan here), 17 (is it to be the War on Terror all over again? President Trump has already called that “number one tricky”), and 18 (total allegiance? I prefer E M Forster’s “Two cheers for democracy”).
On the other hand, some of the points are quite hopeful: especially 15 and 23. And maybe the energies and industries of tomorrow won’t include coal. As a kinsman of mine is wont to say, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Is President Trump an isolationist? His remarks on Protectionism might suggest so, but those on international terrorism might immediately contradict that. Clearly his agenda is mainly focused on domestic affairs. He wants the US to be self-sufficient in the broadest sense. Well, good luck with that. And I don’t mean to be sardonic, but completely sincere in saying that. We might learn something from that. We might also learn to be self-reliant. It seems to me that we on this side of the Pond have an opportunity to redefine “the special relationship”. Of course Winston was grateful when the US entered the Second World War, but they didn’t come in out of fondness for the British. They came in because of Pearl Harbour, and also because Hitler declared war on them. We’ve paid off lend-lease. We don’t owe them anything, any more than they owe us. I think we should stop calling the US President “the leader of the free world”. I have a sense that President Trump does not wish to be the leader of the free world. He’s quite happy trying to cope with his own back yard. But judging by the appalling levels of sycophancy displayed by our leaders trying to get to the front of the queue (or line, if you prefer) for a trade deal, you’d think they were getting out of the EU in order to become the 51st state. Then we too could all “bleed the same red blood of patriots”.
Then again, who was it said that patriotism was “the last refuge of a scoundrel”?