Who Rules This Nation?

Donald Trump’s inauguration speech focused on Americans whom he called forgotten.CreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times



Every president takes an oath, prescribed in Article II, to “faithfully execute” the office of president and to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A few minutes later he (sorry, Mrs. Clinton) delivers his Inaugural Address, and it is always interesting to see what the new chief executive says in it about the Constitution.

In President Trump’s case, he said nothing about it. The word doesn’t even occur. But that isn’t unusual: Many modern presidents take the Constitution for granted in their inaugurals and major speeches. They fill the void with something else, some other large force or cause that holds sway over our politics or commands our allegiance. Liberal presidents often turn to history or progress, benevolent forces, as they imagine them, to which even the Constitution must submit. Conservative chief executives often emphasize the authority of tradition or “traditional American values,” which is the moraine of past progress — what’s left behind by history.

President Trump turned to the nation itself, or to the American people, who used to be the “rulers of this nation” but whose authority has been usurped by a ruling class. He didn’t use the latter term but implied it, contrasting America’s forgotten people to the “small group in our nation’s capital” who are running the show and prospering. Mr. Trump’s victory means the overthrow of this “establishment,” he said, and the triumph of the “historic movement” that brought him to power and restored the people to the control of their own government. Of course, as he knows, winning a battle, even a crucial one, is not the same as winning the war.

On the campaign trail, he emphasized that Americans are governed by “very, very stupid people.” In his Inaugural Address he abandoned all reference to stupidity and indicted their malevolence. But in a very unspecific way: He left the motive behind the ruling class’s bad, selfish policies, and their indifference to the sufferings of the people, unstated. Was it liberalism that made them do it? Greed? He politely didn’t say. Could it have something to do with their pride in transcending the Constitution?

In his short, forceful speech, Mr. Trump spoke up for “the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.” He admitted, however, the awful demoralization of many members of the working and middle class — “this American carnage,” he called it, in the speech’s most striking phrase. Nonetheless, he continues to believe in the people, righteous or not, though maybe not as much as he believes in himself.

Charles R. Kesler is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, editor of the Claremont Review of Books and a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.



About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
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