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And So It Begins

The presidency of Donald Trump got off to a predictably contentious start on Friday, and we expect that will continue for a while.
Trump commenced his administration with a characteristically pugnacious inauguration speech, and pretty much everything in it promised a lot of fussing and fighting and back-and-forth-“tweeting” over the next few years. He did give the obligatory shout out to the past presidents in attendance, and thanked President Barack Obama and his wife for their “gracious” and “magnificent” help during the transition, but he seemed to have all of them in mind when he immediately launched into the part about “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the costs,” and “The establishment protected itself, but not the people.” He assured the country “That all changes — starting right here, and right now,” and although he explained that is because “this moment is your moment, it belongs to you” he seemed as always to regard the moment as being all about him. He described his election as “part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before,” and painted a very dark picture of what America was like before it came to the rescue.
America’s infrastructure “has fallen into disrepair and decay,” “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the world,” “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and an education system “which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” He summed it all with the phrase “American Carnage,” which sounds like the title of a graphic novel soon to be made into a major motion picture, but again promised that it “stops right here and right now.”
We’ve been peddling our gloomy accounts of American decline since Trump was busy firing people on “The Apprentice,” and we’re not about to stop now, but even we thought Trump’s diagnosis a bit overwrought, and to the extent we glean them his prescriptions seemed likely to do more harm than good.
America’s infrastructure is always in need of repair, but that usually happens at the state and local level, and judging by all the orange cones and ditches being dug around here the country seems as busy with the task as always, and our old-fashioned Republican principles as just opposed to a pork-laden trillion dollar spending program as we were Obama was proposing one. The part about the prosperity of the American middle class being redistributed to the rest of the world suggests that Trump regards the global economy as a zero-sum game, with any gain in another country’s standard of living somehow being directly billed to the home of some Rust Belt opioid addict in a “Make America Great Again” ball cap, and Trump’s promise to “protect” us from such looting smacks of the protectionism that has always left all the world poorer. Some of those tombstone factories used to manufacture Kodak film and Betamax videocassette recorders and celluloid collars and other products that are no longer in demand, others were simply no longer any more viable than Trump Steaks or Trump University or Trump Mortgage or the Trump Taj Mahal casino and strip club or any of the other countless businesses that come and go in a competitive and creatively destructive economy, and we fear that any attempts to revive them will not prove fruitful. We’re more convinced than ever than America’s educational system is awful, but have an American president who writes a sentence about “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge” does not make us any less pessimistic about it.
The foreign policy portion was all about “America First,” another pithy and movie-title phrase that sounds good, unless you were educated early enough to know about the last “America First” movement, which argued in the years leading up to World War II that an isolationist America would do just fine in world otherwise dominated by the worst sorts of totalitarianism. Ever since that proved tragically untenable there’s a bi-partisan consensus that international military alliances and economic cooperation between the more democratic and humane countries is needed to sustain peace and prosperity and ward off the ever present bad guys, but apparently that also ends right here and right now.
To our old-fashioned Republican and conservative ears it was probably the worst inaugural address ever, and we can only imagine how harsh it must have sounded to a Democrat and any other sort liberal. Some of them were literally rioting in the streets even as Trump delivered it, with the Starbucks shops seeming to get the usual worst of it, and many thousands more were already in the streets protesting more peacefully. By the next day the Washington Mall and its surrounding streets were filled with anti-Trump protestors, hundreds of thousands more took to the streets of many other American cities, and when you throw in a fair guesstimate of the turn-out in cities from Europe to South America to Australia there were more than a million of them. That’s a lot of angry opposition, far more than the usual newly-inaugurated president provokes, and it’s hard to imagine Trump either overwhelming them with his popularity or charming them into submission, so we expect that should last a while.
Trump had a pretty good turnout of his own, by the standards of the usual newly-inaugurated president, but of course he felt obliged to overstate that. His press secretary had a press conference that allowed no questions but instead merely castigated the assembled media for broadcasting their footing and publishing their photographs that sure did seem to suggest a smaller crowd than the one that assembled for Obama’s ’09 inauguration, and he huffily noted that there were no official numbers, as the Interior Department wisely bowed out out of the crowd-estimating business decades ago, and he went on to boast that Trump of course had the biggest numbers ever, and he flat-out lied about the ridership numbers on the District of Columbia’s subway and the security precautions that might have kept out some the people he insisted were there. When Trump spoke before a group of Central Intelligence Agency employees on Saturday he also groused about the media, and insisted that he could clearly see up to a million and a half people hanging on his every word, and we doubt that a group of CIA analysts bought a single word of it. Inauguration audiences are mostly drawn from D.C. and its surrounding counties, where Trump got tiny percentages of the vote and Obama was a landslide winner, and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters surely had more pressing chores than traveling a long distance and coughing up the $800 a night for a stay at Trump’s hotel, and despite Trump’s apparent insecurities about such things size doesn’t really mean all that much in any case, so with all the fights yet to come it seemed hardly worth fighting.
Trump also took the occasion of his visit to the CIA to reiterate his belief in wars of pillage, wistfully remark that we might yet get another chance to appropriate Iraq’s oil reserves, and promised the spooks that “you’re gonna get so much backing, maybe you’re gonna say, ‘Please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.” After “tweeting” that the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia’s meddling in the past election made him feel that he was living in Nazi Germany, Trump assured the audience that any impression he was not a big fan of the intelligence community was entirely due to that lying media, which allowed him to segue into the longer rant about the huge turnout for his inauguration.
All in all, we did not find it an encouraging start.

— Bud Norman

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Fifty Years After a Dream

Much has changed since Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of Lincoln Memorial, and the 50th anniversary observance held on Wednesday demonstrates how very much.
The original “March on Washington” drew an estimated million people to the city, with more than 100,000 of them packed into the National Mall to hear King and a distinguished roster of other speakers and performers, but despite the best efforts of the racial grievance industry only 20,000 or so showed up for a commemoration featuring the likes of the buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton and the crackpot socialist priest Rev. Michael Fleger, who bravely suggested that young black men refrain from shooting one another for a day. Such glaring disparities reflect the difference between 1963, when racism was widely accepted by American society, codified in its laws, and enforced with frequent brutality, and today.
Although it would be an overstatement to say that King’s dream of a country where men and women are judged by the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin, even the most aggrieved speakers were forced to concede that things have gotten better. Indeed, even the injustices they cited with an old-fashioned fervor proved the point. In 1963 an exceptional young scholar named Medger Evers was assassinated for attempting to enroll in such an unexceptional institution as the University of Mississippi, and fifty years later the only civil rights “martyr” they could cite was Trayvon Martin, a young thug who was shot while slamming a neighborhood watch volunteer’s head against the pavement. In 1963 blacks were routinely denied the right to vote by a variety of rules enforced throughout the southern states, and fifty years later the oft-repeated complaint was that many states throughout the country now require the same sorts of photo identification that are needed to cash a check, buy a beer, or get into the Justice Department to see the black Attorney General. In 1963 a hard-working and underpaid black woman was barred entry to American many stores, and fifty years later the speakers included a billionaire television celebrity who has recently groused that a store clerk was suspiciously reluctant to show her a $38,000 handbag during her recent trip to Sweden.
Fifty years after King’s dream is arguably the best of times and the worst of times in black America, as the brightest and most industrious of race have availed themselves of the opportunities created by the civil rights revolution to move into positions of power and affluent neighborhoods while leaving behind an underclass trapped in slums more brutal and dilapidated and hopeless than any of the segregated black s of the early ‘60s, but what’s left of the civil rights revolution is ill-positioned to comment on either. Any acknowledgement of the progress that has been made weakens the movement’s claim to victimhood, which is the source of its power, and any acknowledgement of the real problems that remain calls into question the most revered assumptions about the government’s role in setting things right.
President Barack Obama, a black man who has moved into the world’s most powerful position and most affluent neighborhood, cited the sobering statistics about black unemployment and family income as if he had been a hapless observer rather than the nation’s chief executive for the past five years. He didn’t mention the gap in educational achievement between blacks and whites, or the former group’s much higher rate of illegitimacy, even though both are the reasons for the disparities in employment and income, but the peculiar politics of race make those topics unmentionable. Fixing the public school that has spectacularly failed black America would require confronting the teachers and embracing such radical notions as the voucher programs that Obama has dutifully opposed, decrying out-of-wedlock births would lead to charges of racial insensitivity and theocratic moralizing, either would entail a criticism of the hip-hop culture that has been such a stalwart Democratic Party constituency, and starting such a discussion might lead people to realize that government policies he has long championed are largely responsible for both problems.
The world will little note nor long remember anything that was said at Wednesday’s rally, a nostalgic celebration of a time when liberalism occupied the moral high ground and didn’t have to confront the complex problems of today, but at least King’s speech still resonates.

— Bud Norman