Sunday, January 22, 2017

Trump's inaugural address: dark, accusatory, boastful -- and with little relation to reality

I did not watch any of the inauguration in real time, nor did I listen to Donald Trump's speech.   But I've read it -- and read a lot of commentary about it.   Mostly, I agree with this opinion from the Editorial Board of the New York Times, published on Wednesday.

"President Trump presented such a graceless and disturbingly ahistoric vision of America on Friday that his Inaugural Address cast more doubt than hope on his presidency.

"Instead of summoning the best in America’s ideals, Mr. Trump offered a fantastical version of America losing its promise, military dominance and middle-class wealth to 'the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.'

"With sweeping exaggeration, Mr. Trump spoke of 'carnage' in the inner cities. He deplored all of this decline as a betrayal of America, implicitly trashing the four former presidents who sat listening behind him at the inaugural ceremony. Those presidents, Democratic and Republican, must have put Mexico first, or perhaps Sweden, or China. Offering himself as a kind of savior, the leader of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,' Mr. Trump proclaimed he would have a different priority: 'America First! America First!'

"Though expectations couldn’t have been terribly high, the opening moments of Mr. Trump’s presidency were beyond disappointing. He spoke to a nation in need of moving past the divisiveness that, not so incidentally, was his hallmark during the campaign. But what President Trump presented was more of candidate Trump, now more ominous in bearing the power of the White House, yet no less intent on inspiring only his base of aggrieved or anxious white Americans.

"The new president offered a tortured rewrite of American history — ignoring the injustices of the past as well as the nation’s economic resilience and social achievements in recent decades.

"One longed, as Mr. Trump spoke, for a special kind of simultaneous translation, one that would convert Trumpian myth into concrete fact. . . ."

[The editorial then goes on to list some of his outlandish claims -- and fact-checks them.  For example:

[1.  He promises to "get our people off welfare and back to work."   In fact, the number of people receiving assistance "fell by more than 70 percent" between 1996 and 2016.    The unemployment rate "has fallen from 10 percent in 2009 . . . to less than 5 percent."   And I would also add that the U.S. budget deficit (which Republicans claim is such a problem) has decreased from 9.8% of GDP in 2009 to 3.2% in 2016.

[2.  Trump spoke of closed factories and jobs hemorrhaged t0 overseas companies;  and he promises to get those jobs back.   In fact, manufacturing jobs have declined by 5 million in the past 30 years, but at the same time manufacturing "output has increased by more than 86%."   This is due to better efficiencies and particularly , in recent years, to automation.    It's not likely that production companies are going to give up automation.

[3.  Trump was also misleading in saying that Washington "subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military."  In fact, the U.S. spends more on its own military than the next seven nations combined, including China and Russia.

[4.  Trump paints an apocalyptic picture of crime in our inner cities and insists that "this American carnage" will stop "right here and right now."    In fact, crime statistics have shown a significant decline in crime over the past couple of decades.

[Returning to the text of the editorial:]

"There was little music in his speech, and no gentleness in his jackhammer delivery, but Mr. Trump did promise that 'a new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.' Yet he said nothing about such practical needs as effective enforcement of civil rights and police reforms by the Justice Department he will oversee.

"It was hard to make sense of Mr. Trump’s distorted vision of America’s past and present. But the passion was familiar in his promise to 'make America great again,' as if the nation were in despair and yearning to retreat somewhere with him. The crowd cheered him repeatedly, particularly when he vowed to 'unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth.'

"Vainglorious on a podium where other presidents have presented themselves as fellow citizens, preening where they have been humble, Mr. Trump declared that under him America will 'bring back our jobs' and 'bring back our borders,' 'bring back our wealth' and 'bring back our dreams.'  This country has its challenges, and we fervently hope Mr. Trump will address them. But America had dreams before Friday. It was great before Mr. Trump became president, and with his help — or, if necessary, in spite of his folly — Americans will find ways to make it greater in years to come."

It's appalling to read such distortions of fact that Trump uses to fire up his base.   It must have been infuriating for those former presidents sitting there behind him, minutely observed by any camera pointed their way, as a captive audience being subtly excoriated by their unworthy successor, using lies and distortions to build himself up as the savior.

Not just President Obama.  Yochi Dreazen, writing for Vox news site, says that an analysis of what Trump was criticizing would really make his target George W. Bush, more than Barack Obama.

Trump was obviously speaking to his base of angry, white working men.   His rhetoric aims to appeal to them;   but his policies (tax cuts for the rich, repeal Obamacare, reduce social spending) are going to hurt them more than help.   And he can't just "bring back their jobs" as he promises.   So who will he have left when they realize he's given them empty promises he can't deliver?   They were gullible voters to him, nothing more.


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