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Trump’s Inaugural Speech: My Response

I’m finding it difficult to identify my feelings in response to Trump’s inaugural speech.

My first reaction was “He prepared. He’s using full sentences and not repeating himself.”

My second reaction was “This is a recycled campaign speech.”close-up of the American flag, representing the American Dream

Trump’s Inaugural Speech

That campaign speech tinge is what particularly bothered me about it. Inaugural speeches are supposed to be about reconciliation. They should say something about how divisive the campaign was, and how it is time for everyone to unite in moving forward.

Trump started with:

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans and people of the world, thank you.

That seemed promising, but then he proceeded to criticize the former leaders at length:

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.

Trump followed this up with a long list of all the things that are wrong with the country.

Later, in a direct stab at the outgoing Representatives and Senators, he said:

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.

So the message seems to be “Thank you, but not really. You sucked as presidents, and so did the entire government, and I’m your savior, come to fix everything.”

In other words, it was a rehash of a campaign speech, but with full sentences and without the repetition and meandering sentences.

Trump’s Inaugural Speech and his World View

As an ex-American, I take particular exception to his view of the rest of the world. Specifically, his statement that

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.

Really? I’m dumbfounded by the arrogance of the idea that America will become so amazingly successful that other countries will want to follow its lead.

The fact is that many other countries are doing just fine, and in many aspects, quite a few are doing a lot better than the US.

I hasten to point out that I’m not trying to counter Trump’s American nationalism with European nationalism. I’m trying to counter the sheer arrogance of “We will shine for everyone to follow” with a little realism.

Nationalism in Trump’s Inaugural Speech

I’m also concerned at the extreme level of nationalism in Trump’s inaugural speech. He spoke of “America first” and of “rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”

The emphasis on “America first” is understandable, of course, but is it always right? If you combine that with his idea about shining “for everyone to follow,” what I see is the kind of attitude that helped Hitler in his rise to power: WE are superior, and THEY are at fault for our problems. Us vs. Them.

Yes, I know it’s a different time and that Trump isn’t Hitler. But the parallels are disturbing.

Trump did, here and there, try to strike the reconciliation chord, but it certainly wasn’t his emphasis.

Taking a page from 1984, Trump used a bit of Newspeak:

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

Patriotism means love for your country. If Trump is telling Americans that they should open their hearts to patriotism, that implies they aren’t already patriotic enough. I would certainly dispute that. And it’s a fine line between healthy patriotism and unhealthy nationalism.

Contrary to Trump’s claim, nationalism allows plenty of room for prejudice: prejudice against anyone who doesn’t fit into your idea of your nation, and prejudice against anyone who isn’t toeing the nationalistic line.

Trump also claimed that “We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.”

I think the black men who feel they need to adjust their routes and habits going about their daily life, hoping to avoid confrontation with the police, might disagree that they are as free as other Americans. The LGBT community, fearing that their recently-won freedoms will disappear, might disagree. Women who might lose access to the low-cost women’s health services that Planned Parenthood provides might disagree. People of color facing new laws that will make it more difficult for them to vote might disagree.

Education and Trump’s Inaugural Speech

In his only reference to education, Trump managed to insult every hard-working teacher in the US:

An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.

Since when is the educational system in the US flush with cash? And since when are its students deprived of all knowledge? If I was still teaching in the US, I’d be furious.

Religion and Trump’s Inaugural Speech

I understand why inaugural speeches include reference to God. After all, the Founding Fathers based their argument in the Declaration of Independence on the idea that men – at that time really meaning only white men – are “endowed by their Creator” with their natural rights. Obama’s inaugural speech four years ago referred to God too. I haven’t checked, but I assume every inaugural speech does so.

So Trump’s frequent mentions of God didn’t bother me. The prayers before and after his swearing-in are what bothered me.

I counted five Christian prayers from five different denominational leaders, and one Jewish prayer.

Not including a Muslim prayer, in these times of distrust of Muslims, was a mistake. It does not speak of reconciliation, it speaks of exclusion.

Trump has always positioned himself as the non-politician, as the contrarian. This speech continued that pattern.

Trump, though, confuses “politician” and “statesman.” Instead of playing the non-politician today, he played the non-statesman.

In other words, what this speech lacked, what Trump lacks, is statesmanship. In the end, he just seemed like another campaigning politician.

It’s going to be a long four years.

(You can read the full transcript with annotations here.)

Feel free to comment below, but please keep it civil!

22 Comments

  • Shobha

    January 20, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    It was pretty depressing. And the reference to keeping money and jobs for Americans – from the man that gets the Chinese to do all of his manufacturing. And, government by the people for the people rhetoric? he’s only hired a whole bunch of Goldman bankers and other ultimate insiders for his political appointments. Ugh. I can’t even.

    Reply
  • Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    January 22, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I tried, I really did Rachel, to watch DT’s speech but I had to turn it off as he blatantly insulted every past President in attendance and, as you wrote, implied that HE would save the country. It’s truly frightening to see DT’s and his new administration’s version of patriotism as unquestioning loyalty and watch as he attempts to write and rewrite history by lying about things large and small that don’t fit his world view. And, right from the get-go, his control of information has already begun with the removal of key government websites(civil rights anyone?) and retaliating against the national park service for releasing comparison photos of the size of inauguration crowds in 2009 and 2017. He was a nasty loser and he’s a nastier winner.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      January 22, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      I wasn’t going to watch it either. I was just planning to watch the news afterwards, but a friend (also an expat American) suggested we watch it together, and I’m glad I did. It was encouraging to see today, after the women’s marches yesterday, that the New York Times, at least, is going to keep resisting the pressure to support fake news and hide real news. They called him out quite clearly on his insistence that the media was lying about the number of people who came to his inauguration. They emphasized the need for proof. It made me feel hopeful, as did the numbers who turned out for the women’s marches.

      The marches didn’t directly change anything, but they put Trump and the whole country on notice that many of us are not going to just accept any reductions in the freedoms of any of us. I stand by my statement in this post that there are frightening resemblances to Hitler’s Germany. He was democratically elected at first too, and then started chipping away at various freedoms.

      Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    January 22, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I am depressed beyond words. Then I watched his speech at the CIA where he didn’t have the benefit of a teleprompter which was horrendous. To make matters worse, as I’m writing this in the Phoenix Airport, 2 men behind me are saying how happy they are that Trump is president. I resisted the powerful urge to turn around and say, “You’re kidding, right?”

    Reply
    • Patti

      January 23, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      You nailed it. I did not watch the speech because I loathe everything about the man (and I use the term “man” loosely) but I’ve read articles about it and I’ve watched snippets on the news. He missed an opportunity, many opportunities, but I am beginning to believe that this will all come full circle and he will be his own ruination.

      My husband and I marched on Washington, DC and it was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. It was life affirming and what it drove home is that he may be in the White House, but he does not have the support of the majority – far from it. He can whine and marginalize the march all he wants, but we were there and we know what happened. The world was marching and the world was watching.

      Now, we just have to pick up the proverbial sword and keep right on marching.

      Reply
      • Rachel

        January 25, 2017 at 4:03 pm

        The sign I carried in the march in Amsterdam said “Mister Trump, the world is watching you!” And that, to me, was the point of the marches: to let him know that we (you) will continue to exercise your right to assembly and your right to speak out, and keep calling him out when he tramples on people’s freedoms and rights. It would not surprise me if the Republicans in the Senate and House turn on him on many issues, because many will also see he’s overstepping the bounds.

        Reply
  • Janice Chung

    January 23, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    My hat off to you for writing a really articulate post on what he said in his inauguration speech. Yes, it was a campaign rehash. I wasn’t going to watch it but decided I needed to hear his words (UGH) for myself. I’m hoping in the end it will be like the Camelot phrase (I think I’m right): “Right over might” and that what is right and decent will prevail.

    Reply
  • Peta Kaplan

    January 24, 2017 at 3:48 am

    Excellent commentary on a depressing day and dark day in history for all of us. I only wish that the protests had taken place before the election. Perhaps we might have had a different outcome. I think many became complacent in assuming Hillary Clinton would win.I also believe that if Clinton had selected Bernie Sanders as her VP, they/we would have won.

    I believe democracy as we knew it is over and a dictatorship has begun. The similarities to Hitlers rise are indeed present and I completely agree with your thoughts and conclusions.

    Peta

    I could not watch!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      January 25, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      Good points. I thought at the time, too, that Hillary should have chosen Bernie as her running mate. She was being very calculating, and feared he was too far left. But she miscalculated. I don’t think democracy is over; at least not yet. People are not being complacent as they were through Hitler’s rise. To me, the women’s marches demonstrated that.

      Reply
  • noel

    January 24, 2017 at 6:07 am

    I didn’t bother listening to the speech or watching the ceremony – I’m thinking your right about taking a lot Hitler’s playbook into his own modus and I’m not kidding – he is that scary!

    Reply
  • Victoria @The British Berliner

    January 24, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    I refused to watch the speech but read about it in the news and saw snippets here and there. It’s awfully depressing, but the worse part of it, is that your average American can’t really see why we, in Europe, are worried.

    I studied Politics for my Bachlors. And my specialization was European Politics. And yes, this is exactly how the rise of Hitler started!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      January 25, 2017 at 4:10 pm

      They might not see why we’re worried in Europe, but they’ll understand eventually. He’s cranking out those executive orders, and many people who voted for him (or didn’t vote at all) will soon regret it.

      Reply
  • Doreen Pendgracs

    January 26, 2017 at 2:29 am

    Hi Rachel. I think, as you said, the world is watching the new president, and I think that no one will let him get away with the atrocities that Hitler did. We’ve all learned from that disaster and I am certain that no one will ever let that happen again.

    Reply

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