Today's short and grim speech reinforces and reveals how Donald Trump will govern as the 45th US president, and it won't serve his people well

The bully victorious. That's what today's inauguration of Donald Trump means to me.

And why should it mean anything else? That is the very essence of the man we have come to know over the past two years – the man who mocks, grabs pussy, calls opponents childish names, incites violence at rallies and is mollified by no-one. The man is not for turning.

In Trump's world, this is what passes for strength. And greatness. His and America's. It is, of course, neither. Rather, you might call it swagger. Conceit. Bombast. Hubris. It's about building yourself up, not to bring others with you, but to make others feel small. It's about taking power, not to serve, but for the sake of vainglory. It's about intimidating others, so that you win and they lose. It's about pride; not the kind that promotes respect, but that which looks down on others.

It's bullying. It's all the things I teach my children not to be. And while it may be a tactic that has seen him rise and fall in business more than once, it's a terrible way to run a country.

Inauguration speeches are not always as great as we like to think. But almost always they speak to the best of America. They often express the sense of humility and weight that comes when someone takes high office; they speak of unity.

Trump bothered little with those niceties today. In line with the rest of his campaign and transition, he ignored tradition and re-wrote the rule book with a bleak, bitter view of modern America that spoke to his supporters, and no-one else.

This lack of respect for those crucial institutions, those expressions of soft power, for me, are one of the scariest parts of the Trump way. Be it revealing his tax and medical records or respecting the will of an independent judiciary, he just pushes by. These are what truly make America great and bridle the power of any presidency.

Yet in transition Trump is still vandalising them; the unpaid taxes and hiring and firing of illegal immigrants, for example, have seen past nominees do the decent thing and stand aside. Trump seems set on muscling through his people.

Even as he moves into the White House, his is still the rhetoric and behaviour of the outsider, the victim, the bully who wants to dominate.

His supporters will see in today's speech a consistency of message. They may hang onto the hope that he will genuinely work to 'drain the swamp', take on "the elites" he was still condemning today and change the system. They will be disappointed.

This is one of the rich ironies of this Trump era. Consider this: An American president took office today who has denounced his own intelligence organisations and US adventures in other countries, already intervened in the market to pressure big corporates and promised repeatedly to give power back to the people. He is promising to 'drain the swamp' and take on 'the elite' in his country. On his first day he torpedoed the TPP and delivered an ultimatum on NAFTA. He's also signalling significant government spending on infrastructure.

Viewed through that lens, the left should be cheering and any self-respecting Republican dismayed. This is a revolution along the lines Bernie Sanders was preaching. It's Rogernomics in reverse.

Except, of course, it's nothing of the sort. It's – mostly – a mirage. As I've written before, one of the tragedies of Trumpism, is that the promised "change" will benefit few of those who voted for him. That change will be as ashes in their mouth.

At heart, Trump has the resentment of an outsider, but also the interests of the elite. It's a terrible irony. A fair chunk of the anger that propelled him to the presidency comes from the Global Financial Crisis and the misuse of money and power by big banks and financiers. But he will double down in the interests, not of those who voted for him, but of those who caused the damage in the first place.

Trump's policies are about deregulation, lower taxes, higher national debt and a 'greed is good' mentality. Alongside anti-trade measures, one of his first announcements today was more military spending. His team to enact this is a cabinet of billionaires. As with all things Trumpian, his promise to put the people back in charge is a con.

And today's speech helps us understand how the con will play. He says he will "eradicate" radical Islamic terrorism. He will "rebuild" the factories and bring back the jobs. And "every decision", he says, will be made to benefit America.

So this, it seems, is how the bait and switch will work; he'll keep eyes on the red, white and blue, while he takes the money and runs.

But to play this con, he has to do some very real things. And here's where it gets worrying for the rest of the world, countries like New Zealand in particular. To win, he will make others lose. Today he blatantly tossed globalisation in the dustbin and ushered in a new era of protectionism. At least, he has tried. There will be stiff global opposition and the tide of history to take on. He may be like Canute before very long.

But his intent is clear. He will put "America first" and urged other countries to put their own interests first as well. This is a dog-eat-dog international order where 'might is right' and the weak suffer; not one of cooperation, win-win and goodwill to all. His Christian supporters must tremble at this most un-Christ-like world view.

Look at his first proclamation on NAFTA. Either Canada and Mexico renegotiate the deal, or he pulls out. This isn't diplomacy. Again, it's the tactic of a bully.

"From this moment on, it's going to be America First," he says. "Protection," he says, "will lead to great prosperity and strength". And for good measure: "We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American".

This is the gauntlet laid down to globalisation; a clear threat to the smaller trading nations of the world. What's interesting is that it will again compel a debate on trade and open markets and it will force us all to re-think what serves our interests long-term.

That is a conversation worth having. But in the meantime, we face a new era, with a Bully-in-Chief in the oval office. And so, as is always the case when faced by a bully, we can choose to be cowed or to hold our ground and our values. That is the test for today, and for as long as Donald Trump remains in the White House.

 

Comments (21)

by Lee Churchman on January 21, 2017
Lee Churchman

Trump isn't the main problem. It's that a supposed beacon of liberal democracy elected an unqualified reality TV villain to its highest office. A country that is capable of doing that cannot be taken seriously as a liberal democracy, and we should not pretend it still is one.  

New Zealand, like Canada, Scotland, and Ireland, is still a liberal democracy. The US is not, and Australia and the UK are fast leaving it behind. For whatever reason those countries are just more authoritarian than us.

We we just have to accept that the US cannot be our friend. We can do business with them, but, like China, they differ so much from our values that they cannot be a friend.

i feel sorry for liberal Americans. I know many. I also feel sorry for liberal Turks and Iranians. It's hard when everyone else is nuts.  

by Peggy Klimenko on January 22, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Then there's this: http://rare.us/story/love-him-or-hate-him-its-time-for-everyone-to-grow-...

And this: http://rare.us/story/heres-the-president-who-donald-trump-most-resembles/

Tim: "...a clear threat to the smaller trading nations of the world. What's interesting is that it will again compel a debate on trade and open markets and it will force us all to re-think what serves our interests long-term."

We don't currently have a free trade agreement with the US. This is a polity that will put a man on Jupiter before it gives us a FTA that's worth anything, ie, including dairy in a concrete way, not just sometime-in-the-future-maybe stuff. That was the state of affairs under the Obama regime, and there is no reason to suppose that Clinton - had she been elected - would have taken a different path.

We'd have been better off, had the US stayed out of the TPP negotiations and this country had been able to conclude a deal with the other countries initially involved. Obama was determined for political reasons to exclude China from the TPP; had that deal been signed, it may well have come back to bite us in the long run.

Lee Churchman: "... we just have to accept that the US cannot be our friend. We can do business with them, but, like China, they differ so much from our values that they cannot be a friend."

As far as I can recall, the US has never been our friend; it has no friends, only interests, as Kissinger famously pointed out. We will still be able to trade with current trading partners, and no doubt with the US as well, depending on what the Trump administration policy on trade turns out to be.

And yes indeed, US society - or perhaps a bigger chunk of it than many people here realise - is conservative. That's the way their world is; their cultural mores are their business, not ours. A more isolationist US in respect of foreign policy would be desirable from my point of view. And I daresay that the citizens of many other countries would agree.

by Tim Watkin on January 22, 2017
Tim Watkin

Peggy, these things take time and a foot in the door is worth something. But I think you make good points. We were getting precious little from the US and we may well get a better (and less compromising) deal with other countries. However the counter-argument is to look at the big picture – the TPP was getting us access to Japan, which any NZ trade minister for the past generation would have cut an arm off for. And a group of our Asian neighbours were going to do well by it. So it's a bigger blow for them. But maybe from the ashes...

Lee, as disillusioned as I am, I don't think I'll go quite as far as that! The institutions of a liberal democracy, even if Trump (and yes, his supporters) are vandalising them. Here's hoping they survive this period of defacement and recover. Pendulums usually swing.

by Peggy Klimenko on January 22, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Tim: "...the TPP was getting us access to Japan..."

I agree that this is of moment, but it looks as if RCEP will do that as well, with luck and good negotiation. We'll have to wait and see what eventuates, but I'm optimistic that the end result won't be worse for us here than it would have been under the terms of the TPP.

Trade with the US won't cease - Trump is a businessman, after all - but it may take a different form. Or not...what we would have got with the TPP wasn't up to much, in any event.

"The institutions of a liberal democracy, even if Trump (and yes, his supporters) are vandalising them. Here's hoping they survive this period of defacement and recover."

I'm puzzled by this comment; which institutions of democracy are being vandalised by Trump and his supporters? What am I missing here?The election went ahead without disruption, and while the Democrats certainly got an electoral whacking that they didn't see coming, their challenges to the result have come to nothing. Conservatives were victorious, to be sure, but that's democracy: conservatives have as legitimate a stake  in that process as do liberals. Although describing Clinton as liberal would be a mischaracterisation: she's a neocon, as is obvious from her career, and from her own electoral platform. And the neocons also have a legitimate stake in the democratic process, of course, though the voters showed what they thought of that option.

Democracy and its institutions will survive in the US; though the Democrats and other anti-Trump organisations currently protesting against him need to take care that they don't themselves vandalise aspects of it. Robert Parry sums it up:

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/01/21/selectivity-in-trashing-trump/

by Dennis Horne on January 24, 2017
Dennis Horne

My old Nan Nicholas had a saying: The devil looks after his own. Hitler's merry dance to assassins' plots backs that theory.

Grandad Horne said once, about the middle of last century: Men are mad and women are whores. All women reject this vehemently, and get upset. Anyway, as I have grown old and slow-witted, I realise how wise he was. 

There is no other explanation for the rejection of climate science and the adoption of Potus orangutanus. Madness.

by Peggy Klimenko on January 24, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Dennis Horne: "There is no other explanation for the rejection of climate science and the adoption of Potus orangutanus. Madness."

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't....

by Lee Churchman on January 24, 2017
Lee Churchman

@Peggy

As far as I can recall, the US has never been our friend; it has no friends, only interests, as Kissinger famously pointed out.

Which, like most of Kissinger's other pronouncements, isn't really true. The countries have for a long time been part of a bloc that share roughly the same political and cultural values. It's easier to get on with countries that share values with yours, and that seems to be nearing a terminus.

@Tim

Pendulums usually swing.

Sure, but there is little evidence of that happening in the US. The Republicans have been on an obstructionist path for over 20 years now, and they appear to have discovered that behaving worse has no real effect on the voters. Their lock on the House of Representatives appears to be more or less permanent, too. If your opponent can put up the worst candidate imaginable and still win, what's the point?

Liberal democracy requires all sides to play hard, but to respect the norms that sustain the system. That appears to be dead in America, and there is no obvious mechanism for getting it back. It's democracy, but not of the liberal kind.

Perhaps it's just time to accept that democracy too will pass. 

by Moz on January 25, 2017
Moz

Peggy: which institutions of democracy are being vandalised by Trump and his supporters

Trump's regular ranting about rigged elections and illegal votes, and the popular announcement before the election that if he lost he wouldn't accept that, is a direct attack on US democracy.

In concrete terms, the ongoing overwhelmingly Republican effort to disenfranchise and gerrymander elections is likely to be strengthened by Trump appointments to the Supreme Court and a number of lower courts. Voting restrictions directly aimed at blacks and poors have been implemented across the US. Recent decisions that some of those were unconstitutional were ignored in some cases, and new restrictions are being imposed now that the Supreme Court has deadlocked on a key decision. That's moving away from fair elections not towards them.

Remember that the US has nothing like the NZ Electoral Commission, instead they have party members appointed to run elections in each county or sometimes state. So there's a crazy mix of election technology, voting systems, and people running the elections. Some people vote while being observed by a local official from a political party, in a polling booth decorated by party advertisements. Technically still an "anonymous vote" according to the law in that area (I've seen the photo tweeted from a reliable source, but can't find it now). Even in Australia that wouldn't happen (I've been a party volunteer in elections in both countries, Australia is much more lax with their already-relaxed rules).

by Moz on January 25, 2017
Moz

(to be clear: I've been a party volunteer in both Aotearoa and Australia, never the US)

by Tim Watkin on January 25, 2017
Tim Watkin

Peggy, the examples of his vandalism are in those pars. His attack on an independent judiciary, his failure to adhere to 40+ years of presidents releasing their tax and medical records, his pushing through cabinet nominations as never beforw. Sadly there are more examples. I'd add to that his unwillingneas to put his assets in a blind trust and dispose of assets with a conflict or which are likely at odds with the constitution. And his willingness - not to criticise the fourth estate - but his repeated attempts to discredit it. (However you think it might be discrediting itself, I don't imagine anyone would argue he is not trying to inflict damage as possible). And his talk of imprisoning his competitor. These are unprecedented acts by an incoming president, at least in the modern error. 

Conservatives and liberals win and lose all the time, that's fine. But they do it within some institutions that are bigger than them. I'm saying that Trump's willingness to ignore those undermines  America's democratic systems, and that risks longer lasting damage.

by Tim Watkin on January 25, 2017
Tim Watkin

Lee, I'm not so sure the House won't swing back and that voters will remain as defeated as you suggest. At least I hope not. 

As you say, it's the disrespect for those norms that os the really troubling bit, as I've tried to spell out to Peggy. I'm also not so sure that US democracy is dead yet. (Though I accept it is in poor health). I'm not going to say who, cos it's a little while before the work comes out, but I've recently done an interview with a rather significant someone who expressed a similarly bleak view of the US and it's not the type you'd expect. (teaser!)

by Katharine Moody on January 25, 2017
Katharine Moody

@Tim - re the spoiler - it's not the type of bleak view we'd expect... or it's not the type of person we'd expect to give a bleak view?  And how long is a little while before it's broadcast? Gee I hate spoilers :-).

For sure the situation in the US is bad - from the folks on the ground there that I know - they know their biggest problems are domestic. Their mindset reminds me a bit of the terminal cancer patient willing to try anything. Not a good place to be - all rationality goes out the window.

There's going to be a lot of tension between federal govt and the states - California's the biggie; 

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-u...

They are building up the military for a reason. 

by Lee Churchman on January 26, 2017
Lee Churchman

Lee, I'm not so sure the House won't swing back and that voters will remain as defeated as you suggest. At least I hope not. 

Well, ordinarily it would happen, but there are two factors working against it. You probably know already anyway. The first is the obvious one that liberals are more geographically concentrated in the US than conservatives. This along with the Federal system gives conservatives an advantage.

The second is that the Republicans spent a great deal of time on state politics as a means of drawing electoral boundaries in a way that favour themselves. Only 13% of seats in the HOR were competitive last time, and that will get lower. The dems already have to do ridiculously well to take the house again, and it will get worse the longer that Republicans dominate at the state level. 


by Tim Watkin on January 26, 2017
Tim Watkin

Katharine, it's a person who you'd least expect to take that view. Hopefully it'll be out in March.

That lack of rationality you mention, I reckon you see that in the 'change for changes sake' attitude you're seeing there. And the non-voting. If people are giving up on elections and those who are voting are backing increasingly anti-establishment (by inept and dishonest ) figures for  the sake of change, then something's broken.

and I agree. The argument with some states will be one to watch.

 

by Tim Watkin on January 26, 2017
Tim Watkin

Lee, how is 'competitive' defined? I'd love to see where that 13% comes from. Ugh. The Americans need an independent boundaries commission and some sort of PR. 

Do you think the concentration is that significant? The electoral college does dish out votes for population. So arguably the Dem domination of Ca and NY give them a huge head start. They have to badly across the mid west and lose Florida and a few others to lose. The changing demographics have swung Virgini, Colorado and Nevada, for example, their way. So really the trend should be the Dem's friend.

But I guess you're talking about Congress, so yeah that may be harder 

by Moz on January 27, 2017
Moz

Tim, without question the problem is that significant. Even a tiny bit of research effort from you would reveal the scale of the problem. "us gerrymandering" as a search term will take you to wikipedia, for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering_in_the_United_States

by Lee Churchman on January 27, 2017
Lee Churchman

"Competitive" means that both sides have a realistic chance of winning. 

Personally, I think the US is a write off. 

by Katharine Moody on January 28, 2017
Katharine Moody

Calexit as reported in the LA Times;

http://www.latimes.com/politics/essential/la-pol-ca-essential-politics-u...

It would (perhaps will) be a fascinating debate - pros and cons if unemotively analysed would be extremely interesting.. 

by Peggy Klimenko on January 31, 2017
Peggy Klimenko

Moz: "...regular ranting about rigged elections and illegal votes, and the popular announcement before the election that if he lost he wouldn't accept that, is a direct attack on US democracy."

What you're suggesting here is that democracy is about accepting the election result, even if it is rigged. That's not the line the US takes with other polities: in particular, Russia.
Meanwhile, bizarre rants about the 'Russians having hacked the election', or whatever it is the wildly overworked President Putin is alleged to have done, are not attacks upon democracy?

"..ongoing overwhelmingly Republican effort to disenfranchise and gerrymander elections.."

What's the evidence for this? I'm assuming that you're referring to what Republicans are supposed to have done in the past, before the latest election. That being so, I don't think that Trump could be fitted up for this, given that a) he's not a pollie and b) most Republicans would have crawled on hands and knees over broken glass to avoid having him as their candidate.

"Voting restrictions directly aimed at blacks and poors have been implemented across the US"

 Are these not voter ID laws? Is it just that blacks and poor people (poors? crikey) are disproportionately less likely to have ID? In any event, I don't think that Trump could be fitted up for that either, for the reasons given above.

Tim: "....His attack on an independent judiciary..."

I'm a longtime politics-watcher, in the US and elsewhere. There isn't an independent judiciary in the US: it has been totally politicised since at least the 1940s, and certainly for all the time I've been following events there.

"...his failure to adhere to 40+ years of presidents releasing their tax and medical records..."

I'm not aware of any such record. It is entirely discretionary, and in my view he was right to limit how much personal information he released, given the continuing dump by the msm.

"...add to that his unwillingneas to put his assets in a blind trust and dispose of assets with a conflict or which are likely at odds with the constitution..."

I've heard journalists assert this, but are they scholars of American constitutional law? As I understand it, divesting to his offspring is quite adequate. His approach is much the same as former Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller's. See this: Breitbart, but even so...

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/01/11/conflicts-of-interest...

"And his willingness - not to criticise the fourth estate - but his repeated attempts to discredit it."

Well, you know, nobody forced the press to act as bullhorns for the Clinton machine - which is excatly what happened. I don't think that the media, having taken sides, should expect to be treated as if they'd been fair and impartial.

"However you think it might be discrediting itself, I don't imagine anyone would argue he is not trying to inflict damage as possible."

With a very few - and mostly alternative - honourable exceptions, the media has gone into obsequious, uncritical bat for not one but two murderous presidential administrations, failing to call them out on their crimes and thereby allowing them to literally get away with murder. It has no moral high gound on which to stand and bleat about being badly treated by Trump.

"And his talk of imprisoning his competitor. These are unprecedented acts by an incoming president, at least in the modern error."

Are you suggesting that failed presidential candidates are above the law? Consider this: was Ford right to pardon Nixon, or wasn't he? If he was wrong, then Clinton should face prosecution.

So no: I don't see Trump as vandalising, or having vandalised, the institutions of democracy.

Katharine Moody: "Calexit as reported in the LA Times"

Secession.... perhaps Californians could take a lesson from the experience of the Crimeans, who seceded from the Ukraine as a result of the violent US-sponsored putsch in Kiev, which overthrew the democratically-elected President Yanukovich. But of course that would require said Californians to know what actually happened there, information they aren't likely to get from the mainstream media, in California or elsewhere in the US.

Here's what will happen:

1. California secedes
2. Washington cuts off external water supplies
3. California surrenders

And I suppose that there's no talk of returning to Mexico?

by Tim Watkin on February 02, 2017
Tim Watkin

Moz, gerrymandering and the statistical/politlcal impact of how voters are concentrated in certain areas are quite different things. I'm fully aware of America's gerrymandering problem and have long said one of the best things the US could do to fix its electoral problems is to create an independent body like our Electoral Commission (or even 50 of them at a state level) to draw up boundaries.

by Tim Watkin on February 02, 2017
Tim Watkin

Peggy, I'm running out of energy debating with you given your commitment to "alternative facts". You're simply wrong about the US judiciary. Yes, there is a politicisation of some appointments, but that's a long way from not having an independent judiciary. I'm sure (or can only hope) you understand the difference.

You've got to be kidding quoting Breibart (Breibart!!!) on anything to do with Trump, given that their boss ran his campaign. They are his propaganda arm. And anyway, again you're simply wrong. Numerous constitutional law experts have said exactly what you say they haven't re his assets, such as George W. Bush's ethics lawyer amongst many others (including Republicans). Many other consitutional experts have said the same about his travel ban.

The 40 year record of declarations? Yeah, I don't make stuff up, so that's true as well.

And the imprisonment. I'm not sure if you misunderstand or are just twisting words for the sake of an argument. It is simply unprecedented for a party nominee to threaten another party nominess with imprisonment. Especially when there is no evidence of a crime attached directly to her and the only alleged crime has been investigated by agencies and dropped. What that has to do with the pardoning or otherwise of Nixon when he was proven to have committed crimes, I have no idea. But to answer your question, no-one is above the law.

 

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