Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Trump inauguration

Inaugural speeches are usually a time for US president-elects to shift gears and strike a chord of reconciliation. Not for Donald Trump, writes Mohamed Salmawy

Customarily the US presidential inaugural address is a time for a newly elected president to strike a note of reconciliation, to restore some harmony between his supporters and adversaries following a heated campaign and to unify national ranks and direct attention forward to forging a common future. Donald Trump departed from tradition. To him, the inaugural address was another opportunity to lash out against the ruling establishment, which he had constantly attacked throughout his campaign, charging that it catered to special interests at the expense of the welfare of the American people.

The inaugural address is the first occasion in which a newly elected president can demonstrate his capacities as a statesman, someone who can weigh crucial issues carefully and exercise the wisdom and foresight demanded by his new post. Generally, the tone is markedly different to that which characterises campaign speeches. It is sober and thoughtful, rather than fiery and aggressive. Trump’s address was a natural extension of his electoral speeches, with the same emotionally charged content. Were it not for the images on TV one might have thought he was speaking at some ordinary campaign rally instead of from the Capitol Building in Washington in front of thousands of people who had come from all parts of the country to watch him being sworn in.

Trump reportedly wrote his address by himself. This means that it is a direct and faithful expression of his vision as the new president. That the substance was consistent with everything he said throughout his campaign may be the most important aspect of his address. Since the moment his electoral victory was announced, people were asking themselves when Trump would change. His remarks during the campaign seemed so unconventional and so outlandish that people could not believe he was really serious. Surely this was just campaign hyperbole in order to attract votes.

Therefore, it was widely expected that he would modify his stances and attitudes when taking office. If the inaugural address is anything to go by, Trump will not change and the policies of the White House will be those he pledged during his campaign.

According to statements by a number of his aides and advisers, during the past weeks Trump made preparations so that from the moment he was sworn in he could take the essential decisions to follow through on his campaign promises. In other words, analysts and observers will not need to wait for his first 100 days in office, as has customarily been the case. They can begin judging “from day one”, which was one of the most frequently repeated phrases in his campaign speeches.

Another factor that sets the Trump inaugural address apart from all its predecessors is that it was one of the most populist ever. Western opinion generally frowns on demagogic speeches by political leaders. It regards it as a sign of political backwardness, something out of the Third World. Some of us here in the Third World reiterated the opinion like parrots. Yet history has just proven it wrong. Over there in the First World demagoguery was one of the chief reasons that Trump is now in the White House. He appealed to the baser emotions of the people, inflamed their passions, and he won.

A central theme in his campaign which was reiterated in his inaugural address was his vow to pursue protectionist policies to promote domestic industries. Such policies have always struck a raw nerve in the West when our developing societies adopted them in order to promote our own nascent industries. They flew in the face of liberal economic diktat that governments should keep their hands out of the workings of the free market. This view, moreover, has always been a cardinal principle of the ideology of the Republican Party from which Trump hails. As a side note here it might be useful to point to another maxim that the West repeats within our hearing and that holds that ideology is dead and policy should be based on pragmatics alone.

Perhaps it is time for us to stop repeating every idea that emanates from the West and is carried in our direction by the force of political ends and for us to start assessing our policies from the standpoint of what they will achieve for us and our national interests, as opposed to how they might or might not please the West.

Nevertheless, Trump’s positions are riddled with contradictions. This was clear from the outset of his campaign. Some believed that Trump would reconcile the contradictions when coming to office, for example by ignoring some notions that would be difficult to achieve. However, his inaugural address indicates otherwise; that he will bring the contradictions into the White House. Foremost among them is the promised protectionist economic approach which conflicts with the beliefs of his own party. This could lead him to clash with a large number of Republican congressmen, putting him at risk of losing support among the Republican majority that he needs in order to pass the legislation required to implement his policies.

A second contradiction is to be found in his declamations against financial and business magnates whom he has accused of getting rich at the expense of the “forgotten men and women” of America. Billionaire Trump, himself, belongs to that class of businessmen. Did he, too, make his fortune at the expense of forgotten American men and women?

Thirdly, he has set his crosshairs on the ruling establishment in Washington. In his campaign he vowed to wrest control of government from that establishment and hand it back to the people. By establishment he refers to the White House, Pentagon, State Department and the financial and media institutions that support them. However, he simultaneously proclaimed his loyalty to Israel and vowed protect it and its interests. His promises to Israel surpass all pledges made by any president before him. How can he defy the ruling establishment when at its very heart you find the Israeli lobby to which Trump has declared allegiance?

Trump waged a campaign unlike anything ever before in the history of US presidential elections. Not only was it unprecedented in the level of his attacks against his rivals, but it also threatened the ruling establishment. His inaugural address was equally unprecedented. It portends the beginning of a new era, not just in the history of the US but in the history of the world.

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