With President Trump — there, I said it — as with all politicians, you have to pay attention not just to what he says, but to what he does. With that important caveat, my reaction to the inaugural address falls into two broad thematic categories.
The first is globalism versus nationalism. David Brooks brought to my attention Jonathan Haidt's distinction between nationalists and globalists. The 2016 election, roughly drawn, had a left nationalist (Sanders), a left globalist (Clinton), and a right nationalist (Trump). The right globalist quadrant, roughly occupied by George W. Bush (and also by previous Republican nominees Senator McCain and Governor Romney) at the moment stands vacant. Trump's speech was nationalist, not globalist:
The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.
For many decades we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.
We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own. And we've spent trillions and 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 dissipated over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind.
The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past, and now we are looking only to the future.
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our product, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs...
We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American...
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
As a rhetorical matter, this is powerful stuff because it subtly (or not so subtly) casts those who disagree with Trump as not patriotic, as disloyal Americans. It makes a lot of people on the coasts cringe. It's worth thinking carefully about when and how and why, exactly, that nationalism or patriotism started to become unfashionable or even embarrassing to many Americans. Was it a consequence of Nazi Germany? Of the Vietnam War? It's complicated. I consider myself quite patriotic, but I am troubled by the zero-sum thinking and false dichotomy expressed in Mr. Trump's America versus "foreign industry" set-up. I can reassure myself with the knowledge that plenty of Mr. Trump's cabinet members and economic advisers, along with many Congressional Republicans and lots of powerful interest groups, almost certainly are troubled, too, and are likely to push back against a Fortress America economic approach.
The second theme to think about is inequality and redistribution. Here Mr. Trump did something politically quite brilliant. Democrats have long complained about inequality and touted redistribution — tax the rich more and spend more on the poor and middle class — as the answer. Republicans have responded either by minimizing the problem or by hoping that poverty would be ameliorated by a combination of growth, private sector or state and local initiatives, a safety net, or improved education. Mr. Trump agrees with the Democratic complaint that prosperity needs to be more widely shared. But he has got a new (at least to my ears, though I am sure someone will point out a precedent) twist on the inequality complaint and a new twist on the redistribution solution. :
we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.
For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore 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. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
That all changes starting right here and right now, because this moment is your moment.
Where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren denounce the "millionaires and billionaires," Wall Street, the drug companies, Mr. Trump's villain is "the establishment," "a small group in our nation's capital." And instead of redistribution by taxing and spending, Mr. Trump is proposing to solve the inequality problem by transferring power away from the Washington establishment and to "you, the people." That's a tall order to implement, because making it happen will require the cooperation of Congress, an institution not previously known for its eagerness to disempower itself.
One final point: I thought the strongest part of the speech was the closing, which had a graciousness and warm heartedness to it that I missed in some of the earlier sections of the speech:
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.
We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.
So to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.
Together we will make America strong again, we will make America wealthy again, we will make America proud again, we will make America safe again.
And, yes, together we will make America great again.