So, that happened.
Let us pray.
Yes, of course, you can go back to sleep, Mr. Van Winkle, but it won’t change the facts. Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
The humble, warm and engaging Trump we’d hoped to meet on Inauguration Day failed to make an appearance. We’ve heard he exists, but shtick is shtick, and Trump is Trump. He was, is and apparently intends to run the nation as a populist. Elites, stand down.
To sum up Trump’s mercifully short-ish speech: We’re Americans, America comes first, we love America, America will be great again. In other words, he said nothing new – or remarkable – except perhaps when he said people would look back on Jan. 20, 2017, and remember … I didn’t hear the rest because I was paralyzed by the foreboding in his fierce countenance and the possibility of so many perilous things that could potentially flow from that moment.
In all other respects, it was a run-of-the-mill campaign speech. And while Trump spoke of inclusivity, saying that prejudice has no place in his America, he certainly conveyed something entirely different during the past 18 months. No one reading this needs to be reminded of the many examples related to Mexicans, Muslims and others.
Notably in low attendance at the speech were African-Americans, which needn’t have been the case. Trump’s message of jobs, better education, immigration reform and other tenets of his campaign should be equally appealing to all. Vexing was always the how. And the style with which the celebrity-bully expressed his intent.
Trump may fervently wish to improve conditions in the inner cities where so many black families suffer, but telling black America, “What do you have to lose?” wasn’t the most effective way to build solidarity.
Meanwhile, a large bulk of the nation mourns or prepares to protest. As I wrote this Friday at The Washington Post building, police barricades were blocking hundreds of demonstrators who seem itching for a fight. Elsewhere, millions are filled with despair amid the alienation from a country they barely recognize. Trump’s months of insults aimed at igniting resentment toward “others” can’t be erased by his citing the Bible telling us “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
There’s a reason people are clashing with police. There’s a reason a large throng of women (and their male sympathizers) will be protesting the new president and his boasts about manhandling women at his pleasure.
These are among the reasons one might have hoped that Trump would rise to the occasion of this quadrennial event when America swaps out presidents for a new charge toward a better future. This go-round, the future felt up for grabs as Barack Obama and the former first lady lifted off in a military helicopter. One needn’t have approved of the past eight years of liberal policies to appreciate (and soon miss) the contagious sense of calm Obama exuded. He was all grace and, yes, beauty when he waved, and smiled and, said, “Come on, man.”
Perhaps Trump’s fist-punching finale was mere punctuation to his patriotic song of nationalism, but it somehow felt threatening. Most presidents and politicians show an open hand of nonthreatening conciliation as they wave to a crowd. Not Trump. He’s all fist and in your face. From what Trump has said and projected, it’s not a leap to imagine an increasingly militaristic society in which individual choices (to pray or pledge) are not so voluntary. Already we’ve seen hints as Trump trashes dissenters and tries to diminish reporters and news organizations as “fake news” to the detriment of a free society that, without a robust media presence, isn’t likely to long remain free.
Even with all of that, Donald Trump is our president. He deserves a chance to prove us doubters wrong; to create a government that he thinks will bring jobs and money back to the U.S.; to enhance educational opportunities for the less-privileged; to enhance our military defense without yearning to test it; to reform the tax and regulatory codes with deference to economic realities.
I had intended to mention our role as wards of the planet, but it would appear that this has already been resolved. All mention of climate was removed from the White House website moments after Trump took office. So that also happened.
Pray that our country survives these next few years and that the new president is both wiser and less impetuous than he seems. It’s the least and the best we can do – for now.