Opinion

TRUMP INAUGURAL ADDRESS: Brilliant, Populist, NOT Conservative

   DailyWire.com

On Friday, Donald J. Trump became President of the United States. His inaugural address was pure Trump: a populist brew of government interventionism, patriotic rhetoric, law and order toughness, protectionist economics, and isolationist foreign policy. It was politically brilliant, and it had little to do with conservatism.

Trump is Trump.

His supporters will cheer, of course, as they would at nearly anything he said. His critics will complain, of course, as they would at nearly anything he said. But if Trump’s inaugural address foretold any serious policy, he just presaged a major political realignment: a movement of the Republican Party away from the Reagan conservatism of the past – fiscal conservatism, social conservatism, foreign policy hawkishness – to Pat Buchananite populism. Trump’s philosophy – what we’ve seen of it, at least — is absolutely antithetical to the idea of maintaining liberty at home through small government and abroad through alliances and muscular defense.

That will shake up both sides of the political aisle. It will also make conservative philosophy a stranger to the halls of power for the foreseeable future.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t see significant doses of conservative policy. Trump’s populism has crossover with some such policy, just as it does with Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialism. But it has no philosophical crossover with conservatism itself, because it is predicated on the notion that the government represents the dreams of the people, and the Great Leader represents their agent.

So, in no particular order, some thoughts.

1. The “Dark” Speech Was Politically Brilliant. Just as the media got Trump’s Republican National Convention address all wrong – they complained about its darkness and its gloom – they’ll get this one wrong, too. They’re all focusing in on the phrase “American carnage” from the speech, not realizing that Trump is doing something quite intelligent: he’s setting a backdrop for his performance as president. Barack Obama used George W. Bush as his foil for eight years, to great success. Trump is taking office proclaiming America a Mad Max-ian wasteland – a feeling many Americans share, particularly in his base – and thus setting himself up as the man of change.

2. Trump’s Definition of Enemies Is Smart. Trump also declared all the popular whipping boys his enemies: Washington D.C., the “establishment” (all of whom support him inside the Republican Party), foreign countries supposedly stealing our jobs and wealth. Trump understands innately that politics is the art of opposition, and he used his inaugural address to set himself in opposition to the enemies of the American people. The best line of Trump’s speech came early: “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This portion of the speech was tremendous:

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. It belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country. 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. It belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

3. Trump’s Patriotic Rhetoric Works Well. And he set himself up, too, as the ultimate patriot. This sort of rhetoric angers the left, but Trump understands that most Americans still thrill to the flag. By setting up American unity around the notion of patriotism, and identifying himself openly with the old-school patriotism the left scorns, he’s doing himself a real political service. This is golden material:

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. The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity….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.

The left cringes. Most Americans thrill.

4. Trump’s An Isolationist. Trump’s foreign policy is a mixture of militarism and isolationism. His basic philosophy seems to be that America need not be pro-active on foreign policy – we should sit in Fortress America and build up our capacity, then strike when hit. Here’s his take on alliances, for example: “For many decades, we have…subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military…. We have defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” These are not mutually exclusive interests. But Trump’s foreign policy sounds a good deal like Bernie Sanders’: why go to war when we can use that money building freeways at home? Trump believes that this philosophy is “America First” – but then he says he’s going to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism. How, exactly, does he plan to do that without taking a rather active role in the world? Delegate it to Vladimir Putin, who’s been supporting the chief backers of global state-sponsored terror, the Iranians? One of the great myths of American politics is that America can retreat behind its oceans and somehow maintain its safety both at home and internationally. But Trump’s anti-terror policy is likely to look at lot more like Bill Clinton’s – treating terrorism as law enforcement — than George W. Bush’s. Here’s Trump’s isolationism in a nutshell:

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.

Really? How about Iran? How about Syria? How about Russia? How about China? What happens when other countries’ interests conflict – and what do we do when that conflict impacts us, as it inevitably does and will?

5. Trump Hates Free Trade. Trump’s vision of how global economics works is deeply ignorant, but it’s the portion of his program to which he’s most attached. He is not going to delegate trade issues to the Congress or to Mike Pence. He’s going to embrace the mercantilism of the early 20th century. Here’s his take on industry:

For many decades, we have enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry… 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.

This line – “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength” – applied, to trade, is economically illiterate. But that won’t stop Trump from embracing an anti-free trade mentality that will deeply damage our economy if he isn’t checked by his own advisors.

6. Trump Isn’t Going To Limit Government. He’s Going To Use It With Alacrity. Immediately after stating that Washington D.C. would have to delegate power back to the people, Trump dropped this line: “At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.” This is different from what the conviction of our founders was: not that a nation exists to serve its citizens, but that a nation exists to protect their rights. That difference is not minor. It is foundational. Trump’s vision of government provides jobs, invests in infrastructure at incredible rates, guarantees health care, and the like. As Trump ad libbed, “We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.” His view of government is that government ought to take care of the citizenry, rather than protecting the citizens so they can take care of themselves.

Trump’s inauguration ushers in a new era in American politics. The populists are in charge, no matter what Mike Pence or Paul Ryan might hope. And Donald J. Trump is president. Nobody else.

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