After Donald Trump won the nomination, we had hoped that it was just an act to win the Republican nomination, and he would take on a more reasonable tone. Instead he fought with a gold star family and continued to campaign for the presidency as he campaigned for the nomination. After he won the election, we hoped again that he would be more reasonable. Instead he attacked the free press and fought with people ranging from Meryl Streep to John Lewis. We hoped that he might change once he was president, but again their was no pivot, as Trump gave a terrible speech, which was widely criticized on the right as well as on the left. George Will called it “the most dreadful inaugural address in history” and Joe Scarborough called it “a primal scream aimed at Washington, D.C.”
The speech (full text here) sounded more like a Trump campaign rally than a speech from a newly elected president desiring to unite the nation behind him. He pandered to isolationism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry, stressing the slogan America First, oblivious to its history. Walter Shapiro wrote:
Trump may well be a president who, like automaker Henry Ford, believes that “history is bunk.” But it was striking how much borrowed 1930s imagery was embedded in the 16-minute speech.
Even though the slogan “America First” harks back to Charles Lindbergh and his isolationist (and sometimes anti-Semitic) movement against U.S. entry into World War II, Trump has continued to embrace it with a passion.
There was also an echo of FDR’s 1937 inaugural address as Trump portrayed the America he was inheriting. Roosevelt declared, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” For President Trump, it was “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” and “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives.”
Of course, there is overwhelming evidence that the crime rate has plunged (especially in Trump’s hometown of New York) over the past two decades. And economists will eagerly point out that changing technology (like robotics) have done far more than trade treaties like NAFTA to hollow out America’s 1950s industrial core.
But that’s not the view that the new president saw from the campaign trail and from his fortress of solitude atop Trump Tower. Much about Trump may reflect the cynicism of the eternal huckster, but his portrayal of a dying America calling out for rescue by a superhero seems sincere.
Jonathan Chait wrote that, The System Has Failed and a Con Artist Has Won:
The gall of Trump’s populism is astonishing. “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” he announced, shamelessly. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.” This from the first president in decades to refuse to disclose his tax returns, and the first in centuries to use the presidency to enrich himself and his family!
The presidency raises the stakes of Trump’s con game to a completely new level. In his inaugural address, Trump declared his fealty to the People, promising to unleash untold wealth to them that was being held by elites in Washington and by foreigners. “We will bring back our jobs,” he said. “We will bring back our wealth.” He promised to quash crime and “eradicate” Islamic terrorism “from the face of the Earth.” The grandiosity of these promises is necessary to get even the minority of the electorate that can tolerate Trump to overlook his overt grossness and corruption.
The methods of a skilled con artist have worked just barely well enough to deliver the presidency to Trump. But what happens when his grandiose promises fail to materialize? And when the aspects of his program that he never mentioned in his speech — tax cuts for the rich, stripping away health insurance from millions, massive graft — do take place? A con artist who always escaped his old victims and found new ones has reached the maximal limits of his strategy. What happens when the marks are demanding that the promises he made be redeemed, and there is nowhere for him to go, and he commands the powers of the state?
We only saw a glimpse of policy on Trump’s first day in policy, but it was not good. Despite 2016 being the warmest year on record, climate change has gone down the memory hole at the White House web site. Civil rights and LGBT rights have also disappeared. A list of Melania’s magazine cover appearances and information on her jewelry line at QVC have been added. (Update: The references to QVC have been removed.)