Inauguration Day – Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again
By Alastair Thompson
The 45th President of the United States of America – Donald John Trump
Over the past two months since his election the expanding clouds of chaos and uncertainty generated by the approaching Trump presidency have transfixed the world.
Understandably the United States, media and establishment, presented today's inauguration with all the respect, pomp and ceremony that traditionally accompanies the coronation of the "Leader of the Free World." CNN's commentators used the word "majesty" rather a lot, and a choir even sung Handel's coronation anthem Zadok the Priest.
And perhaps we can forget for now that the evangelical pastor who led President Trump's private pre-inauguration ceremony - frequent Fox News guest Pastor Robert Jeffress, has "..called Islam and Mormonism heresies "from the pit of hell," suggested that the Catholic church was led astray by Satan, and accused Obama of "paving the way" for the antichrist."
After all today's grand celebration of the peaceful transfer of power under democracy is also a celebration of unity.
But in being elected and inaugurated in such unfortunate circumstances the Free World and democracy itself have been massively diminished, as has the office of United States President.
2nd in the line of succession – Vice President Mike Pence
It's not just that a man who has been repeatedly shown to be a pathological liar is now the POTUS, nor that he has spent most of his campaign attacking minorities, stoking fear, using foul language and undermining media freedom.
Today, as President Trump took the massive step into the presidency, he is besieged already, with allegations that members of his campaign team conspired with Russian intelligence services to use the product of criminal hacking to tip the scales in the election in his favour.
Just yesterday the New York Times confirmed in a report that an active multi-agency investigation is underway into Trump campaign figures' ties to Russia. This confirmation was followed up early today by the Washington Post.
Three passages from the NYT report deserve emphasis:
"The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.
Representatives of the agencies involved declined to comment. Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.
The lingering investigations will pose a test for Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who has been nominated for attorney general. If Mr. Sessions is confirmed, he will for a time be the only person in the government authorized to seek foreign intelligence wiretaps on American soil. Mr. Sessions said at his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Mrs. Clinton. He was not asked whether he would do so in cases involving associates of Mr. Trump."
With the twin news powerhouses of US national politics confirming a McClatchy newspaper report from two days ago, its now official that the incoming President could face impeachment within months depending what this investigation finds.
And in the meantime serious, justifiable concerns exist over Trump's capacity to act without fear or favour in one of his most important roles, that of Commander in Chief of the U.S. Military and Security apparatus.
We have learned in recent years of ever growing partisanship in the US, UK, Australia and NZ how much the efficacy of constitutional firewalls and conventions are dependent on the integrity of those charged with protecting and upholding them.
If Republican Party partisanship now enables this President to simply shut down the investigation into his Russian connections, then a significant firewall will have been breached.
Such a development would signal to would-be totalitarians everywhere in the world that constitutions are flexible pieces of paper, not (as we have come to see the US constitution) immutable laws that protect us all, and that cheating your way into power by way of dirty tricks is perfectly OK in the free world provided there is no proof, or you are able to get into power quick enough to stop any being found.
For those of us who are not in the United States, and for a solid number of those who are, the question at the top of our mind is now whether the free world will continue to remain free in the months and years ahead.
Psychologically this election is already a major blow to a world full of people who already feel anxious over the war on terror, the unresolved global financial crisis, and the increasingly obvious evidence that the climate crisis is accelerating
The crazy Republican primary and following Presidential campaign was bad enough, with its obscene language, nationalism, misogyny and racism.
That some people – in the US and elsewhere - ended up believing there was more to Trump than this appears now to be simply the result of some slickly executed naked political opportunism. Jumping on the Brexit/"Feel the Bern" bandwagon last Spring – with enthusiastic Brexiteer support – Trump claimed he would represent the left behind struggling families of middle America.
And to these people the underlying messages are still attractive even now: draining the swamp, protecting American jobs, and restoring America's decaying infrastructure.
But after the election this rhetoric is looking more and more like just that, nothing more or less than the things that you say in order to get elected.
After the election Trump even said so. Speaking to one of this "thankyou tour rallies" the then 45th President Elect explained his revised views on the phrase that people had thought would mean bringing new fresh thinking to Washington D.C.
"Funny how that term caught on,
isn’t it? I tell everyone: I hated it! Somebody said,
‘Drain the swamp.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s so hokey.
That is so terrible.’ I said, ‘All right. I’ll try
it.’ So like a month ago, I said, ‘Drain the swamp.’
The place went crazy. I said, ‘Whoa. Watch this.’ Then I
said it again. Then I started saying it like I meant it,
right? And then I said it, I started loving it."
In the two months since the election Trump & his team have explosed their real intentions.
Through November and December a procession of opportunists, adventurers and charlatans made their pilgrimage sto Trump Tower. Then as Trump's cabinet picks were announced, it became increasingly apparent that this President was appointing a cabinet of billionaires, seemingly with the simple and specific intention to dismantle all remaining barriers to unfettered capitalism.
And so three and half decades after the neo-liberal project began in earnest under Reagan and Thatcher – when Donald Trump was a relatively young man – it has today reached its zenith, just as everybody thought its sun was starting to set.
Reports of discussions in Congress about budget plans reveal the Trump Team's scorched earth intentions. In the 24 hours since "The Hill" published an inside view of the Trump Team's budget plans yesterday it has been shared more than 82,000 times in social media.
The changes they propose are dramatic.
The departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.
Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.
These are budget plans that the high priestess of self-interest Ayn Rand and her acolytes would applaud.
Fortunately I do not live in the United States. But if I did this budget discussion would terrify me.
There is no more effective practical way to deregulate the environment, labour protections and undermine justice and policing than to simply defund all those programs whose role is to enforce the law and protect the public interest from corporate and Governmental over-reach. The courts are a very poor defender of government policy with no implementation or enforcement funding.
This plus Trump's cabinet filled with foxes turned game-keepers tells us what this administration intends to do. It turns that America is to be made great again for capital and capitalists, bankers, oil giants, large scale political donors.
Which if you think about is really rather unsurprising. Donald Trump is himself a billionaire - or at least claims to be be – and no doubt will soon be on the basis of his interpretation of his conflict of interest exemption and the aptly named Title of Nobility Clause (Emoluments Clause) in the U.S. Constitution.
The new Commander in Chief of the most dominant military force ever assembled by a nation state.
It is in the sphere of foreign policy that the rest of the world finds its greatest anxieties about this new President.
Just this week Donald Trump told UK and German newspapers he doesn't care whether the EU stays together and called NATO obsolete.
Without explanation or any apparent deliberation using only a few tweets and importune remarks, decades of Sino-American relations based around the "One China" policy are in disarray. With China's neighbour North Korea poised to test a ballistic missile which they claim will be capable of reaching the United States, the timing is poor.
So while it turns out the things that sounded good - like draining the swamp, and restoring the lot of America's forgotten middle classes – are things that Trump's actions show he has decided to let slip from his policy platform, or is likely to let slip as soon as Congress denies him the funds to pursue them,
But the really disruptive stuff, like scrapping the Iran nuclear disarmament deal, pulling out of the historic COP21 global climate accord, bringing back coal, reconfiguring a less expensive and more Russian friendly NATO, and encouraging anti-EU nationalism in Europe remain on his agenda.
President Donald Trump delivering his Inaugural Address.
After his swearing in the President had an opportunity to reassure his nation and the world about his intentions.
Traditionally Inauguration speeches are used to attempt to unify The Union following the election. To outline some noble purpose while seeking to convince the people that their new President intends to represent all the people, whether they supported him or not.
Trump's speech, reportedly personally crafted by himself, did nothing of the sort.
Addressing the people of the United States and the people of the world directly Trump made it clear that his intentions – and those of his administration – will now be nakedly nationalist in conception, design and execution.
He introduced a new slogan "America First" which ominously resurrects a slogan used by American fascists in the 1930s.
When it comes to economic, trade and foreign policy America, President Trump said, will no longer be a leader, instead it will be an "shining example". Of what? Apparently of selfishness as everything that America does, Trump said, would be measured against the rubric of whether it was in America's interests. America First!
As for draining the swamp, while he didn't use the words, Trump began his speech by excoriating the Washington establishment and telling his supporters that his Government would be their government – giving back control to them.
And then an hour later he signed nominations to appoint a cabinet filled with white male millionaires. billionaires and neo-liberal small Government extremists.
And then his speech returned to the themes he used in his speech to the Republican National Convention. Fear and division. He talked of "carnage" in the streets of the USA and vowed to "erradicate radical Islamic terrorism" from the face of the earth.
And then he used an odd phrase which he seems to have taken a shine to.
"When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice," he said.
Which means what exactly? That nationalism can triumph over racism and misogyny?
This sounds like the wishful bait and switch thinking of a racist misogynist to me.
Later he followed this line up by signing a decree dedicating a national day of patriotism, which promptly led many to ask the question, what then is the Fourth of July for?
Patriotism is famously last refuge to Dr Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying. The complete quote as recounted by Boswell reads: "Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apophthegm, at which many will start: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak of self-interest."
Taken alongside the "American First" slogan, with its fascist overtones, Trump's constant use of fear and scapegoating, and his new "day of patriotism" one can but conclude that this inauguration speech hails from the extreme authoritarian end of the political spectrum, wherein too many humanity's greatest historical terrors can be found.
It's worth noting that there is another political figure whose modus operandi is similarly fast paced, mercurial, dynastic and authoritarian, and that is Vladimir Putin. That said Putin is far more nuanced in his execution of the strategy.
No doubt a less toxic explanation will quickly be found for these words in Trump's address, but the dog-whistle has already been sounded, and the violent and hateful elements in the United States body politics will have heard it loud and clear.
In the wash-up following Trump's speech wishful thinking was out in force among the media commentariat. Hope springs eternal that today's President Donald J. Trump will be a new "real" Donald Trump, one that doesn't take everything personally and wake up punching in 140 character bursts.
And yet, but for a brief moment of magnanimity on election night, we haven't seen any evidence that President Trump is capable of changing. He is constantly his brutish self and this at least we will need to get used to.
And we all need to get used the chaos, we've had a year of it so far, and unless there is an impeachment, at least four more now lie ahead.
But maybe, just maybe, something good can come of all this.
Donald J. Trump has proved that someone without any political experience can be elected into the most powerful democratically elected position on our planet. And it’s a lesson – due to the nature of its delivery - that will likely be seared in the memories of several generations of voters and hopefully a new generation of more noble political aspirants.
And maybe Obamas' departure, which was so elegantly presented in contrast, will remind us voters of what we have lost via the embrace of partisanship and the erosion of the idea of seeing political work as an act of service.
And maybe all this will give the body politic greater immunity to the mutant forms of political machination which appear to be spreading like viruses all over the planet.
And while we wait to find out whether there is an upside in all this, we can also pray for brave investigators, US Congressional politicians with the courage to contemplate impeachment, and stalwart principled journalists to reveal enough of what is happening behind the scenes to enable the constitutional protections against this monstrosity to come into effect.
- 500 Words - Alastair Thompson, 20th January 2017, Bretagne France