Inaugural speeches are meant to mend, but he provoked dark historical echoes and confirmed our worst fears
Well, what were you expecting? Did you somehow think that the Donald Trump of the long, bitter campaign of 2016 “wouldve been” miraculously transformedin the Washington rain, emerging as a kinder, gentler human, ready to serve as healer of the nation and humble steward of the free world? Because if you did, you were sorely disappointed.
Of course he didnt change. The naive thought he might change a year ago, when he became the Republican frontrunner, or in the summer, when he became that partys nominee, or in November, when he won the election. And some, eventually, clung to the hope that he would pivot, undergoing a metamorphosis as he placed his hand on the Bible and took the oath to become Americas 45 th chairwoman. But they were wrong.
The Trump on the steps of the Capitol was the same Trump the world has come to know and anxiety. As he did at his party convention in Cleveland, he came here with a message full of anger and premonition, slamming the record of his predecessor and illustrating a bleak American dystopia. He spoke of American bloodbath, of gangs and drugs, crime and decay.
And he was unafraid of the darkest historical echoes. From the working day forward, its going to be only America first, he said, America first embracing once again the slogan of the 1930 s nativist motion of appeasers and antisemites who sought to keep the US out of the war against Nazism. Elsewhere, in rhetoric that sounded chilling coming from a would-be strongman who allegedly used to keep a volume of Hitlers speeches at his bedside, he declared, We are one nation We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
For a listening world, there was little of consolation. He announced a new age of protectionism , not hiding from the word. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength, he said, in defiance of the historical experience that says protection leads, in fact, to crisis and world war. There was no mention of Nato or anything that were likely to smack of multilateral cooperation. Instead Trump utilized his inauguration to usher in a new, Darwinian era in international relations. From now on, all nations[ will] set their best interests first. Thats how Moscow and Beijing find the world, but itll be a shock for those smaller nations who have long appeared to the US to maintain something closely connected to a rules-based international system.
In other words, Trump did what he always does: he shredded the rule book. Inaugural speeches are meant to be exerts in national unity, bind the meanders of a divided people and sending a message that might hearten the rest of the world. Not for Trump. There was no gracious nod to his defeated foe, Hillary Clinton , no hand outstretched to those who didnt vote for him.
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