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January 23rd, 2017

President Trump’s inaugural address: Expert reactions

1 comment | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Blog Admin

January 23rd, 2017

President Trump’s inaugural address: Expert reactions

1 comment | 1 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

On Friday 20 January, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. His inaugural address, hinting at a radical departure from previous US policies with potentially big repercussions on all other continents, sent shock waves throughout the globe. Expert contributors give their rapid reaction to the inaugural address. 

Remarkably pessimistic, remarkably despondent

Thomas Leeper 80x108Thomas Leeper LSE Government

Trump closed his inauguration speech by saying “together we will make America great again” in an apparent attempt to bring together the millions of Americans that voted for him and the millions more that voted for his opponent. The optimistic line concluded a speech that was remarkably pessimistic, remarkably despondent about the country he now leads, and remarkably tone deaf to the political divisions resulting from the 2016 election.

His speech made promises to restore greatness to a nation that is already great and to bring economic protectionism to consumers that will be harmed by the rising prices that accompany it. He promised to reduce crime below its historically low levels. He promised to buy American products and hire American workers, despite notoriously and consistently failing to do so himself. His speech was false promises to achieve goals that are already fulfilled by the existing reality that they inaccurately describe. He will claim responsibility for an economy already brought out of recession and for enhancing a military that already outshines the rest of the world. I hope he succeeds.

Early in Trump’s speech, he referenced “the forgotten men and women” of America, a term originated by 19th Century libertarian thinker William Graham Sumner. Sumner wrote that “the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be the man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.” Trump is going to unburden the American man by disengaging the United States from the world that it leads, closing its borders to block off steadily declining immigration levels, and put “American first,” whatever that means.

Sumner elaborated that this forgotten man “needs no improvement in his condition except to be freed from the parasites who are living on him.” Trump’s speech described Washington and “other countries” as the parasites harming the forgotten man, but said nothing about the unparalleled wealth of his cabinet members or his administration’s pending plan to gut a popular policy that brought health care to millions of previously uninsured Americans.

I hope Trump succeeds to “make America great again.” And I know that he will, because America is already great. It’s only a question of what harm his administration will bring.

Trump’s speech echoes the rhetoric of sixty years’ worth of Anti-American sentiment from poorer countries around the world 

Dan CassinoFairleigh Dickinson University

Dan Cassion 80x108The major theme of President Trump’s inaugural address is that middle class Americans have been disenfranchised by globalization, that “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” Moreover, as he says, the establishment has been celebrating its victories, but the people haven’t been sharing in the wealth.  In essence, he argues, American integration into global markets has been a sucker’s bet for many Americans. What’s fascinating about this is how he is echoing the rhetoric of sixty years’ worth of Anti-American sentiment from poorer countries around the world.

When scholars look at economic integration between states, certain patterns become immediately evident. In general, raw goods flow from less developed states, and are sent to more developed states to be processed, before reaching market in the most developed states, flowing from what’s often called the periphery, to the semi-periphery, and finally to the core. While this relationship isn’t necessarily exploitative, in practice, the lion’s share of the profits from the sale go to the more developed states: Starbucks is making a lot more from your cup of coffee than the farmer who grew the beans, or the plant that processed them. Similarly, it’s much better to be in the business of designing iPhones than in the business of manufacturing them, and either is probably preferable to mining for rare earth metals.

As the world has become more economically integrated, leaders in the less developed states have pointed out the seeming inequity of the relationship, calling for a more just distribution of the gains resulting from their labor and resources. As the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez put it at the opening of the G-15 summit in 2004,

Instead of wealth globalization, there is poverty wide spreading. Development has not become general, or been shared. To the contrary, the abyss between North and South is now so huge, that the unsustainability of the current economic order and the blindness of the people who try to justify continuing to enjoy opulence and waste, are evident.

The similarity to how Trump talks about how American workers have been left behind while corporations and politicians in the cities have prospered is odd, until you realize that they’re both making the same argument. Both Trump and Chavez are saying that the gains from economic globalization are not being shared fairly, that they are resulting in unsustainable inequality, and that a new political order is necessary to correct the inequity. The only thing that’s different is the context in which the argument is being made: Chavez is talking about inequity on the level of nation-states; Trump is talking about inequity within a state.

In a real way, Trump is reflecting the inconvenient truth about economic integration. The major cities of the core – New York, London, San Francisco, Tokyo and the like – have become so integrated that they have far more in common with each other than they do with the less developed areas in their own countries. A New Yorker might well feel more at home in London or even Beijing than in Tulsa. Chavez is saying that Venezuela is being exploited by the United States and the European Union; Trump is saying that the Midwest is being exploited by New York and Washington.

Nor are the two men necessarily wrong. In America, corporate profits increase as middle class jobs have become scarcer. A Pew study from 2016 found, for the first time, that the majority of Americans belonged to the upper or the lower class, with less than half in the middle class. Within the United States, the net outflow of wealth from the middle class has been the result of policy decisions on corporate governance and redistribution programs. The irony of Trump’s argument is that globally, the patterns he’s decrying are the result of a concerted effort on the part of the United States to create, starting in Bretton Woods, and sustain the existing global economic system.

Trump is far from the ideal messenger for this argument, but the mere fact that he’s making it is part of his appeal. No one questions that globalization has been beneficial for the United States as a whole, even as great swathes of the country have been left behind, in the same way that globalization has created wealth in the world as a whole, even as whole continents have been left behind. It’s no accident that the cities and coasts in America, the areas that most benefit from globalization, voted overwhelmingly for Trump’s opponent. One of the main tenets of globalization is that despite all of the rhetoric about them, borders matter less and less, and so the divide between the core and the periphery now seems less about borders between nations, and more about the divisions within America itself.

Much of Trump’s rhetoric could have been pulled from a Bernie Sanders speech 

Joseph E. Uscinski – University of Miami

Joseph Uscinski 80x108Donald Trump’s campaign was built largely on conspiracy theories and red-meat populism. Trump’s inaugural speech was little different. He implicated the nation’s political class in a conspiracy to sell-out the American people to global and foreign interests. (We could have watched the Alex Jones Show and gotten the same thing.) Throughout Trump’s campaign, he repeatedly spread conspiracy theories and engaged in conspiratorial rhetoric, and if you add up all of his conspiracy theories (even the bizarre ones), they boil down to one thing: the political class acts against the interests of the people.

But this does not set Trump apart from his partisan opponents: much of his rhetoric could have been pulled from a Bernie Sanders speech. In particular, Trump’s stands against free trade and globalization, and his support for massive government infrastructure spending. In terms of their use of conspiracy theorizing, Trump and Sanders’ campaigns were very much the same. Both thought a small group of people were conspiring against the American people: for Trump it was the political class, for Bernie it was the dreaded “one percent.” Even Democratic New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s introductory speech echoed the conspiracy; the only difference is that he blamed the wealthy for our country’s woes; Trump blamed politicians.

It is still hard to know what President Trump will actually do while in office. If his inaugural address is to give us an indication, he will likely spend a lot of money on infrastructure. He also seems determined to enact tariffs, or at least threaten to do so repeatedly on Twitter.

One would think that an inaugural speech, one designed to go down in history, would have more substance than a campaign stump speech. One would also think that a strict adherence to facts would guide the speech making; it does not seem to have. For example, I am unaware of “carnage;” and crime is largely down over the last few decades.

While this could have been the moment for Trump to calm fears and send a positive message, this speech will go down as a missed opportunity. His lines were about as deep as the paving on the driveway, and his view of reality is about as real as reality television.

Trump throws down the gauntlet in his inaugural address 

Jenny TatsakWalsh College

President Donald J. Trump’s inaugural address was true to the tone and tenor of his campaign rhetoric.  Like past inaugural speeches, our new President described his vision for America.  This “America first” vision did not pledge unity to heal the deeply fractured electorate, protesting his presidency in Washington D.C. and around the US, Trump’s inaugural address served as a rhetorical gauntlet for the political establishment and his detractors.

Although he began by thanking the former Presidents in attendance and used inclusive language like “us” and “we,” President Trump did not mention his opponent or her supporters.  He did not make conciliatory assurances of compromise and consensus.  Instead, he took aim at the political failings of the past.  He blamed the Washington establishment for the plight of struggling families.  He warned, “This American carnage stops here and it stops right now.”

Trump’s speech had a populous appeal targeted at those feeling forgotten by the political process.  He likened his election as returning power to the people.  Trump explained American jobs and protected borders as integral in achieving his vision and its promises of wealth, strength, safety, and greatness.

The off-the-cuff remarks, we have come to expect from Donald J. Trump, were missing from this inaugural address.  The tangents, so unlike the Washington establishment he criticizes, were missing from this first speech as President.  Instead, his delivery appeared rehearsed and “on script.”

Despite his more “presidential” delivery, the combative language and rampant attack of policies and policy makers of the past remains.  President Trump set the tone for this presidency with an unconventional inaugural address that makes clear he will not play the political game as usual.

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Note:  This article was first published at USAPP and it gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor the London School of Economics, nor the authors’ institutions.


About the authors 

Thomas Leeper 80x108Thomas J. LeeperLSE Government Department
Dr Thomas Leeper is an Assistant Professor in Political Behaviour in the Department of Government at the LSE. His research on individuals’ public opinions primarily focuses on how mass attitudes reflect an interaction between the broader information environment – including the mass media and political elites – and individual-level attributes – namely citizens’ expressed behaviors, psychological traits, social identities, motivation, and opinions. He tweets @thosjleeper.

Dan Cassion 80x108Dan Cassino – Fairleigh Dickinson University
Dan Cassino is an associate professor of Political Science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, who studies political psychology and polling. His most recent book, “Fox News and American Politics,” was published in 2016.

Joseph Uscinski 80x108Joseph E. Uscinski University of Miami
Joseph E. Uscinski is Associate Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts & Sciences, University of Miami. He is co-author of American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Jenny tatsak 80x108Jenny Tatsak – Walsh College
Jenny Tatsak is Chair and Professor of Business Communication at Walsh College.  Her fields of interest include persuasive campaigns and strategic communication.  She worked in a number of capacities on political statewide, regional, and national campaigns, including campaign manager and primary spokesperson.

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Posted In: Dan Cassino | EU Foreign Affairs | featured | Jenny Tatsak | Joseph E. Uscinski | Politics | Thomas Leeper