Friday, January 20, 2017

The Asterisk President

Well I can't say that I grinned, but I did manage to bear the entirety of Donald Trump's inaugural speech earlier today.

It wasn't the longest inaugural speech in history, William Henry Harrison spoke for a grueling one hour and 45 minutes on March 4, 1841.

Nor was it the shortest, that honor goes to George Washington's two paragraph speech for his second inaugural address.

After all of Trump's divisive campaign rhetoric and alienation of large segments of the American populace, many were expecting to hear something that at least remotely resembled a call for national unity from today's inaugural address.

But his roughly 20-minute speech turned out to be little more than a pitch to his base (the 38% of Americans who approve of him), a pitch that we've heard before.

From my perspective, it was mostly an unremarkable repetition of the exact same lofty campaign promises that Trump has used over and over during his campaign rallies.

And just like his often rambling speaking style, today's speech was laced with simplistic kinds of pie-in-the-sky promises and devoid of any kinds of policy specifics - lot's of colorful frosting but very little cake. 

There was no shortage of the vague platitudes or blatant hypocrisy that have become his hallmarks.

Kellyanne Conway rocks retro-Republican chic
On the one hand he opened the speech with lofty, almost pious assurances about power being returned to the people.

He talked about bringing back jobs, reigniting hopes and dreams and repeated the same promises he's made to his support base in the rust belt and rural regions of the country.

Trump assured the crowd that, "We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, and never do anything about it."

But then just hours after making those comments, as Alan Pyke reported for Trump sat down with congressional leaders and promptly revoked a cut in fee rates for mortgages that the Department of Housing and Urban Development passed eleven days ago.

The cut in fee rates would have saved mostly poor homeowners with loans insured through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) up to $500 a year and would have made it easier for homeowners with poor credit to obtain mortgages.

How many of the millions of Americans who have FHA-insured mortgages voted for Trump?

And remember folks, he did that just hours after taking office; try to imagine what next week is going to be like.

During the speech he also spoke of building roads, bridges and infrastructure, but how's he planning to do that with a do-nothing Republican congress that vilifies any type of government spending that isn't related to tax cuts for the 1%, military spending, or tax-payer funded subsidies for fossil fuel companies?

Is he aware that he's inheriting THE most unproductive congress in American history? The same one that totally rejected President Obama's proposals to pass a huge infrastructure spending bill (to do the same things Trump promised) and put Americans to work? 

Trump supporters cheer as Republican congressman
prepare to try and gut their Social Security
Instead of offering up an optimistic view of the country, he went back to his vision of a nation on the verge of sinking into the abyss.

The unemployment rate is the lowest in 40 years, the economy has been steadily growing and crime is the lowest it's been in decades, but as he did in his frightening speech at the RNC convention, he once again painted a dark and bleak picture of America.

As he spoke of crime, drugs and inner cities on the verge of the Apocalypse, Trump channeled his inner Dirty Harry and boasted, "This American carnage stops right here."

Remember that's from the same guy who pledged to revoke the federal ban on guns in school zones.

Oh and speaking of "American carnage", according to statistics and data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, in 2016 there were 385 mass shootings in the U.S. and 15,039 deaths related to firearms.

Over the course of the campaign, as Trump sought to push the buttons that energize the Republican voter base, he's been little more than a spineless lackey to the NRA - so I'm curious what his plan to stop the "carnage" is going to be.

As for the 3,780 American children between 0 - 17 years of age who were injured or killed by firearms in 2016, perhaps he's depending on a divine intervention; after all during the speech today he did say, "Most importantly we will be protected by God."

Let's hope so. We certainly won't be protected by this Republican congress who are essentially bought and paid for by the NRA; same congress who've killed over 100 pieces of gun control legislation introduced despite over 400,000 Americans losing their lives to firearms since 911

Nazi salutes were a common sign at Trump rallies
In the wake of Trump unleashing his inner Roy Cohn on Georgia Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis over the Martin Luther King holiday recently, one would have thought today's inauguration speech would've been an ideal opportunity for him to express some kind of desire for racial reconciliation or unity.

Instead he offered up a single vague sentence.

"When you open your heart to patriotism there's no room for prejudice." 

Maybe the white nationalists and Neo-Nazis who gave Nazi salutes at an alt-right conference in Washington back in November to celebrate Trump's election (or the Klan members who marched in celebration) will take that into consideration.

Trump neglected to mention the more than 800 incidents of hate and hate crimes that took place across the U.S. after he was elected; but perhaps the patriotism he repeatedly mentioned during the speech today will take care of that.

Speaking of patriotism there were some pretty strange authoritarian tones in the speech too, he exhorted the crowd to "Buy American and hire American." - despite the fact that the clothes that both he and his daughter Ivanka sell are made in other countries.

How all this is going to play out in a global economy remains to be seen.

Protesters in Washington, D.C. [Photo - Getty Images]
But it's clear that on the domestic front we're going to see varying degrees of chaos in the coming days - 95 people were arrested in D.C. during anti-Trump protests that rocked pockets of the city.

Trump's one day honeymoon is pretty much over, tomorrow hundreds of thousands of people in cities across America and the globe will be taking part in various extensions of the Women's March on Washington - including your's truly.

The mobilization of a sustained, nationwide progressive opposition to Trump and the Republican Party really starts tomorrow morning.

It's been a long week at work and I really wanted to sleep in on Saturday, instead I'm getting up at 7am to meet up with my mother, sister, niece and friends of the family to head into Trenton to march.

As President Obama reminded us, Democracy isn't easy, it's hard; and it's going to take hard work to unravel what's taken root in Washington and in state legislatures across the country.

For thousands of Americans, Saturday is a work day - I'll let you know how it goes in Trenton.

But regardless, the tone of the Republican campaign, the flood of fake news, the interference in our electoral process by Vladimir Putin and Comey's release of an FBI letter days before the election alleging evidence about Hillary Clinton's emails that turned out to have been nothing leave a dark cloud of illegitimacy over the man who was sworn into office today.

And as former White House ethics lawyers Richard Painter and Norm Eisen discussed on an episode of NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross the other night, Trump's conflicts of interests related to his businesses are so extensive and unknown that he could very well find his time in office marred by investigations or charges related to violations of the Constitution.

He is, in the minds of many, a president with a large asterisk. 

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