The United States has a new president, and it is a testament to the enduring institutions of this nation that as divisive as the election and aftermath has been, Friday’s inaugural proceeded without incident, and with all the stately ceremony accorded every incoming president.
President Trump’s address, however, did little to unify a country where emotions are still running high and where the weekend is expected to be packed with protest marches in more than 600 cities. That is a missed opportunity, considering he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million.
Instead, Trump gave an address aimed squarely at those who share his view of a dark, dystopian country marred by high crime, abandoned factories “scattered like tombstones” across the landscape, a country of, in his stark words, “American carnage.” But that is a vision at odds with reality as many Americans know it. The fact is, after climbing out of the worst recession in its history, the U.S. has record-low unemployment in many parts of the country, including Minnesota. Overall crime rates are down, as is illegal immigration. The problems to be solved are big enough, no need to paint a picture darker than reality itself.
But Trump’s address was even more striking for the fierce populist tones it struck. He clearly believes the U.S. has bled itself dry in the service of other nations, and it is alarming to think the leader of the most powerful country on Earth believes America can step away from its responsibilities yet retain its power on the world stage.
Although he is the leader of his party, Friday’s speech was not partisan. It was a rejection of the Washington establishment, right and left, with strong hints of corruption and self-dealing at the expense of the American people. “For too long a small group in our nation’s Capitol has reaped the rewards while the people have born the costs,” Trump said. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.” That should be discomfiting to a Congress led by lifers like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Washington fixture for more than 30 years, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, an incumbent since 1999. It also is at odds with a Cabinet stocked with wealthy appointees who have profited while the nation’s income inequality gap has grown.
And will Republicans go along with a president who says his rules going forward will be “Buy American, Hire American,” and who vows that every decision on taxes, trade, immigration and foreign affairs “will be made to protect American workers”? That, along with Trump’s pledge to rebuild American infrastructure with American workers, speaks to a robust, even interventionist federal government.
For all its downbeats, Trump’s address was heartening on a few points. His call to “think big and dream even bigger” is a good one, and he would be wise to build on ambitious proposals from earlier administrations, such as the “cancer moonshot,” and attempts by Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to renew the space program. Trump also struck a positive note by reaching out to all Americans, noting that “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”
If Trump truly wants to put “America First,” it must be all of America — all 324 million people representing virtually every race, ethnicity and creed on the planet. That is a gargantuan task that will take everything he can give for the next four years. We wish him well and ask that he seeks wisdom from all corners of this great nation.