A Dark Rhetorical Cloud Over Washington

The inaugural parade route, under grey skies, in Washington, D.C. CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times



One of the most celebrated moments of the First World War took place on Christmas morning 1914, along the Western Front. Thousands of British and German troops, without prompting, climbed out of the trenches and met in no-man’s land. Gathered together on frozen ground, the men sang carols well into the night; they traded chocolate and cigarettes and kicked soccer balls. “It was a short peace,” a Scottish infantryman recalled, “in a terrible war.”

Inauguration Day, historically, has been a little like that: a pause, a brief truce, “an interlude of national reunion,” as the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. put it. After a divisive election, the inaugural ceremony — and its centerpiece, the presidential address — is meant to reaffirm our common identity as Americans, before we resume fighting about what exactly that means.

Donald J. Trump added his voice to history’s chorus today, and it was shrill and discordant. If any new president had a need to repair the breach, it was Mr. Trump — who was roundly, even vehemently, rejected by some 73 million voters, about 10 million more than the number that supported him. “We share one heart, one home and one glorious destiny,” Mr. Trump proclaimed, one of a number of anodyne, unobjectionable phrases urging unity and “solidarity.” Yet he refused — pointedly — even to acknowledge his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Beyond the boilerplate, Mr. Trump’s Inaugural Address was mostly a buttoned-up version of his campaign stump speech, targeting the same audience of “forgotten men and women” who share his disgust for what he called a “small group in our nation’s capital.” He inflamed, again, these Americans’ sense of betrayal by the “establishment” and painted, again, his dark, counterfactual picture of “American carnage.”

A dark cloud hangs over this inauguration that no oratory could possibly dispel. Mr. Trump is hardly the first president to take office in a climate of foreboding: After the election of 1800, Federalists expected that Jefferson would abandon the Constitution and align the United States with France; in 1933, conservatives charged that F.D.R. was a homegrown Hitler.

But none of Mr. Trump’s 44 predecessors offered more reason than we have today to fear for the survival of democracy in America. Mr. Trump’s infatuation with foreign strongmen, including the one who intervened in the election on his behalf; his brazen self-dealing and self-justification; his intolerance for difference and dissent; his appeals to racism and resentment; the contempt he has shown, consistently, for the rule of law, the freedom of the press, the system of checks and balances, the very notion of equal rights — all this puts the American experiment in peril.

Mr. Trump’s compulsive dishonesty makes it foolish to put faith in anything he says, and that includes the most important words he uttered today: that he will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Our era of ill feeling found its standard-bearer today.

Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, is the author, most recently, of “Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court.”



About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, US economic, US economy, US President. Bookmark the permalink.

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