From Our Future
Donald Trump's inaugural address stunned Washington elites. The New York Times, Washington Post and others commented on its unbridled populism, its accusatory tone. The Post's antiquated conservative, George Will, scorned it as "the most dreadful inaugural address in history." Although Trump carefully read it off teleprompters, it was barely a step above his stump speech. Yet it deserves attention for it reveals how Trump's right-wing populism distorts America's populist tradition. The differences are clear in each element of Trump's story.
Who Done It?
Trump begins with an indictment of the "Washington establishment:"
"For too long, a small group in our nation's Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished -- but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered -- but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs."
Later, he returns to indict "politicians who are all talk and no action -- constantly complaining but never doing anything about it."
For Trump, the enemies of the people aren't Bernie Sanders' "millionaires and billionaires" that have corrupted our politics and rigged the economy to benefit themselves. The enemy is "Washington" and its "politicians" who "prospered" while "the jobs left."
What Was the Crime?
Trump paints a dystopian vision of America -- "rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; and "crime and gangs and drugs -- and promises that "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now."
But what was the crime? The crime, according to Trump, was that Washington chose to enrich the world, but not America:
"For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; ...We've defended other nation's borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
"We've made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon...The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world."
Missing, of course, is the reality that big money and entrenched interests rigged the system to benefit the few in the United States. The top 1% cleaned up, corporate profits are at record heights, while most Americans struggled simply to stay afloat. The system wasn't fixed by China or Mexico. It was rigged by American elites to benefit themselves.
What is the Remedy?
Trump talks about returning government to the people, but his focus isn't on empowering workers. He's not for redistributing the wealth that has been captured by the very few. He's not for strengthening unions, lifting the minimum wage, curbing CEO abuses, taxing financial speculation, ending perverse executive compensation schemes that reward executives for plundering their own companies. He isn't talking about strengthening public education and making college tuition free. And he's surely isn't pushing to strengthen the democracy, curb money in politics, end voter suppression or gerrymandered districts.