Donald Trump is now the president of the United States, and on his very first day, with his very first speech, he has managed to redraw the picture of America to which we are used. Before Trump, we were accustomed to an America that engaged the world with confidence and strength. An America willing to trade with the world, understanding that trade is not a zero-sum game. An America that not only honored its alliances, but ensured that its allies would never have any reason to doubt American resolve. An America with problems–because no nation is without problems–but one that was still a land filled with hope and opportunity. Hope and opportunity that our leaders praised at every turn, and reminded us of every chance they could get, not only because optimism’s an electorally appealing trait, but also because expressions of optimism and hope were and continue to be the best way to appeal to the best in the American people.
With Trump’s ascent to power, much has changed. His inaugural address shrieked that we should no longer engage the world; that we should withdraw from trade, that we should see it as a zero-sum game, against all of the evidence. His “America First” sloganeering was an isolationist rant that demanded we pretend that the rest of the world does not exist. And he painted a picture of America that resembled a post-apocalyptic hellscape, notwithstanding the actual facts regarding the state of America.1
Donald Trump’s inaugural address was easily the worst any president has ever given. Let us go through why.
The speech can be found here. It is replete with hypocrisy and lies.
Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: thank you.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people. Together we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.
It is nice that Trump got around to saying something nice about President Obama, who has been extraordinarily gracious throughout the transition period. But let’s not forget the many years that Trump–a thoroughgoing racist–spent questioning whether Barack Obama was born in the United States; a skepticism without any foundation and with no evidentiary support whatsoever. Let’s not forget that Trump called President Obama a “cofounder” of ISIL; a ridiculous and inflammatory charge, if ever there was one. No one should be fooled by this belated show of courtesy towards his predecessor; Trump is still under the delusion that he is better than those who are actually his betters.
Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.
For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.
Politicians prospered, but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
This passage is nonsensical, as Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee make clear:
Trump engages in some sleight of hand here, equating “politicians” with “Washington.” The suburbs around Washington are among the richest in the United States, largely because of the federal government (which attracts people with college or advanced degrees). People either work for or lobby the federal government, and that was especially enhanced by the post-9/11 growth in defense and security contracts.
Among the 25 most populous metropolitan areas, the D.C. metro area has the highest median income in the nation — $93,294 versus a U.S. median of $55,775 — though growth has slowed in recent years, in part because of reductions in defense spending. Indeed, income in the D.C. area has grown essentially at the same rate as the rest of the nation since 2006, including a dip in median income during the Great Recession.
There is no empirical evidence that the D.C. area got rich off the rest of the country, as Trump suggests.
Back to Trump:
That all changes starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment. It belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day, this is your celebration, and this, the United States of America, is your country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of an historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
Again, as Kessler and Lee write, the notion that the Trump movement was “historic” is absolute garbage:
No matter how you measure it, the “movement” was not as historic as Trump proclaims it to be.
Trump is a minority president, in terms of the popular vote. He lost the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes to Hillary Clinton. Clinton had the largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.
Trump’s electoral college win, meanwhile, was a squeaker. Trump had narrow victories in three key states (and narrow losses in two others). He won Michigan by 10,704 votes, Wisconsin by 22,177 votes and Pennsylvania by 46,435 votes. So if 39,659 voters in those states had switched their votes, 46 electoral votes would have flipped to Clinton — and she would have won 278-260.
Overall, according to a tally by John Pitney of Claremont McKenna College, Trump ranks 46th out of 58 electoral college results.
Kessler and Lee might have added that Trump is historically unpopular, which means that no one should fear defying the new president.
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists:
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
The notion that we are undergoing “American carnage” is laughable. New White House statistics on “killings” in Washington, DC are complete nonsense. The United States is experiencing economic growth, and is near full employment. The notion that students are “deprived of all knowledge” can only make sense to a president who is deprived of all knowledge, but fortunately, most Americans do not suffer the educational and cognitive impairments of their new president. And Trump’s comments regarding crime rates are as habitual as they are patently false.
We are one nation, and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.
We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.
This is absurd. As the annotations to this speech state, “[c]orporate profits have reached record heights in recent years. The biggest American companies have benefited enormously from globalization. It’s the workers who have suffered.” And most of the “suffering” has come as a result of automation, which we heard nothing about in Trump’s speech. Of course, automation and trade lead to new and better jobs, so the process is a net win for American workers, but leave it to Trump to leave inconvenient truths and facts out of his disgrace of an inaugural address. Moreover, “[t]he Pentagon spends about $600 billion a year on the American military, more than is spent on the next six largest world militaries combined. Hardly a depleted force.” Finally, we remain wealthy, strong and confident, as helping our allies and investing in other countries is–again–not a zero-sum game that harms America (though I can certainly understand why after today, Americans might feel significantly less confident about their prospects and about their country’s future under Trump.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past, and now we are looking only to the future.
Nick Gillespie has a lot to say about this patent drivel:
Let’s be clear: Manufacturing jobs (factory jobs) peaked as a percentage of the workforce in 1943 at around 40 percent, during the mobilization efforts for World War II. Since then, they have declined at a perfectly steady rate (red line below). In terms of raw numbers, manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979. The United States produces more stuff with fewer workers. Not only are these jobs never coming back, they disappeared from our shores decades ago. Only people who are wilfully naive or mendacious about basic economic reality and history can continue to assert that declines in manufacturing employment are recent or a major part of contemporary economic dislocation. FFS, I lived in Buffalo from 1990 to 1993 and even then people were saying the factories and the mills had just shut down, even though the big declines were already 20 and more years in the past.
(Emphasis in the original.) Back to Trump:
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
Actually, no. It won’t. (Kudlow and Moore–being the suck-ups to power that they are–now speak well of Trump. But once upon a time, they were more honest about the catastrophic damage that Trumpian protectionism would do to the American economy.)
I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.
This is pure and utter pablum. The president of the United States seems to think that if he speaks like a second-grader who is “deprived of all knowledge,” he can will an alternate reality into being.
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.
“Buy American” does nothing whatsoever to put American interests first.
We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.
The best way to ensure that America will no longer be a beacon for the rest of the world to follow is to allow Trump to get his policies enacted.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.
NATO hardly thinks that we will “reinforce old alliances,” though to be fair, we may very well “form new ones” by signing away our national security priorities to Russia, and to Donald Trump’s mancrush, Vladimir Putin. As for “radical Islamic terrorism,” it should be emphasized that Trump is the best recruiting tool that al Qaeda and ISIL could ever have. When they refuse to go quietly into that good night, be sure to remember Trump’s fatuous promise that he will make terrorism go the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird. Be sure to remember which president to blame for not following through on a promise to “eradicate completely” a form of asymmetric warfare that has existed since the time of Hassan al-Sabāh.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
It is quite something to hear the most divisive president in the history of the country prattle on about unity. It is equally something to hear the most compromised president in the history of the country–one whose allegiance is more to Russia, the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin–prattle on about patriotism. But credit where it is due; Donald Trump has helped us understand why there is so much prejudice in his heart. It is because there is absolutely no patriotism to be found within it.
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we will be protected by God.
The president who wanted to “open up” the libel laws so that he could more easily sue people who hurt his tender feelings, now tells us that “[w]e must speak our minds openly” and “debate our disagreements honestly.” The most divisive president in American history now tells us that we should “pursue solidarity,” and preaches the benefits of unity. Irony is dead.
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving.
We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.
The president who has been “all talk and no action” throughout his entire achievement-deprived life now preaches that “action is eloquence,” and poses as the can-do champion of competence. The hypocrisy induces more nausea than I thought existed in any number of universes.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.
It would be nice if we could “free the earth from the miseries of disease” by pursuing common sense regarding vaccinations, but Trump, as usual, is “all talk and no action.” And if Trump’s views on vaccines and vaccinations do not terrify you, then you are either spectacularly ill-informed–with an ignorance that might challenge that of the president himself–or actively rooting for the annihilation of all of humanity.
It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.
The unrepentant racist preaches racial harmony and unity.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky. They fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.
So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words. You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
Together we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again.
We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And, yes, together, we will make America great again. Thank you. God bless you and God bless America. Thank you. God bless America.
It is official. Sloganeering and empty rhetoric have replaced facts and reason.
President Trump delivered a campaign speech, not an inaugural address, on Friday. That he and his staff do not understand the difference goes to the heart of his insufficiency as a leader. Addressing a shockingly sparse crowd, he painted a picture of a hellish America that can only be restored by turning inward, deciding the world is a burden and our allies are thieves.
[. . .]
His language was the crude boasting of his campaign. (“America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.”) The overwhelming number of Americans are employed; the smokestack jobs are not coming back; wages are up; and Americans dream every day. You’d never know it listening to him.
What was missing was virtually any vision of what he wants America to be. The most we got was a promise to “build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation” and to get “people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.” Beyond that he cannot describe a renewed America. More opportunities? More productive? More understanding between segments of America?
[. . .]
There has never and will not be a better Trump. His vision is dark, false and frightening. He leads by stoking nativism, protectionism (which actually makes us poorer) and seething resentment. God help us all.
A few facts: crime and poverty in America’s inner cities are certainly problems, as they have been for decades. But crime is down across the nation over the past decade and particularly in inner cities, Chicago being a bloody exception.
Calling rust-belt factories “tombstones” may have been the most powerful imagery of the speech but it ignores—as his campaign did—that GDP and domestic manufacturing are actually up in America over the Obama years.
These facts show that any vision of American carnage is fear mongering. The country Trump is inheriting has been improving fitfully but steadily over the Obama years. This is not a record of “empty talk,” as Trump put it to indirectly dis the outgoing president. The facts show that we are better off now than we were eight years ago: wealthier, safer and stronger by most measures. And this president will be judged by those standards.
Twenty minutes into his presidency, Donald Trump, who is always claiming to have made, or to be about to make, astonishing history, had done so. Living down to expectations, he had delivered the most dreadful inaugural address in history.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, had promised that the speech would be “elegant.” This is not the adjective that came to mind as he described “American carnage.” That was a phrase the likes of which has never hitherto been spoken at an inauguration.
Oblivious to the moment and the setting, the always remarkable Trump proved that something dystopian can be strangely exhilarating: In what should have been a civic liturgy serving national unity and confidence, he vindicated his severest critics by serving up reheated campaign rhetoric about “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” and an education system producing students “deprived of all knowledge.” Yes, all.
And now, of course, the lies and ethical lapses are coming at us fast and furious—more fast and furious than before, because Trump is now president. We will have to endure four years of this garbage–possibly eight, unless we regain our bearings, our propriety, and our respect for the rule of law, and initiate the impeachment and conviction this new president so richly deserves.
The hour is already growing late. Unless America takes action, she will soon lose her soul to Trump and his Visigoths. “The last best hope on Earth” cannot be allowed to fall prey to Cheeto Caligula and his band of marauders. Ours is a great nation, filled with glorious people. It and we deserve better than a Trumpian downfall.
1. Credit to Jacob T. Levy for “post-apocalyptic hellscape,” which is a wonderfully descriptive turn of phrase.