A few quick thoughts on President Donald Trump’s inaugural address:
- Trump is making big promises and will suffer if he does not keep them. I’ve seen a lot of people on Twitter on Friday who are impressed and/or scared by the address. They note that the commentariat (on the right and the left) underestimated the political power of Trump’s populist message and should not continue to do so. This is true enough; however, the power of a populist message from an outsider candidate is different from the power of a populist message from a president. Trump has described enormous problems that he has promised to fix quickly — now it is his responsibility to do so. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said today. What if it doesn’t?
- Trump’s speech was in line with his campaign rhetoric, but he will need a new shtick eventually. People have been noting how unusually dark and unpleasant this speech was for an inaugural address, but that has been Trump’s style all through the campaign. We will see how this wears during his presidency. As a candidate, your job can be to point out how terrible everything is; as president, you’re supposed to make things better. How much has to change before he can declare that America is great again, and will his voters (in many cases, concerned about quite real economic stagnation and social disorder in their communities) agree that things have changed enough?
- Trump’s speech was not conservative. Of course, it was not liberal either. It promised to return power to the people but did not promise to shrink the government. “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves” is a message that could have come from a president almost anywhere on the political spectrum. Nothing in this speech suggests that anything like the Paul Ryan budget — especially cuts to entitlement programs — will be on Trump’s priority list. Liberals are right to worry that Trump might still quietly sign government-slashing bills sent to him from Congress. But conservatives should also worry that he might veto them.
Broadly, my posture is to wait and see.
Trump himself said during his address that the time for talk was over and that it was time for action. Action has never been Trump’s strong suit. We’ll soon see what his actions are and how much of the electorate finds them to be satisfactory.
I believe the tasks ahead of Trump are even harder than the tasks that lay behind him to win his shocking upset victory in last year’s election. But rather than foreordain his failure, I will watch and see whether he surprises us again.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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