Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When an inaugural address is a continuation

For 56 years, I've been a fan of inaugural addresses. I've watched most of them in those decades since I watched John F. Kennedy's on a small, black-and-white TV in a school auditorium. A few were excellent. Most were laudable, and many were inspiring.

I was not able to watch Donald Trump's inaugural address "live." I was in the car, traveling, but my NPR station carried the address and the ceremony leading up to it live, and I listened intently.

My reaction was immediate: This is not an inaugural address. It's a campaign speech. The new president made no attempt to extol American values or to inspire the citizenry. He spent his brief, 16-minute speech (bonus points for brevity) attacking U.S. policies, foreign countries, and societal trends and promising, with anger and vehemence, to make everything wonderful ... somehow. With all his promises, he never explained exactly how he would get those lost jobs back, how he would counter China's global strategy, or how he would fix the infrastructure, crimes and middle-class malaise in our own country.

He did something else no president I've heard ever tried before: He attacked the United States of America. His term "American carnage" was the most shocking of his address. "Carnage"? The word, with its roots in the word for bloody meat, suggests a scene of scores of dead bodies lying in the street following an artillery bombardment or air strike. The United States has some serious problems, but "carnage" is not a word most people would use to describe this nation. Certainly, there have been incidents, such as Sandy Hook, the Pulse nightclub, or 9/11, that warrant such a description, but the new president was referring to a national carnage — something on par with the Holocaust. Trump's use of the term is chilling and scary. Can he possibly believe "American carnage" is an apt description?

I was especially disappointed in the inaugural address because I had heard a Trump adviser say just hours before that Trump knew the difference between campaigning and governing, and he would begin governing as soon as he was sworn in. That didn't happen, and it's scary.

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