Donald Trump and the New American Patriotism
Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a stirring call for national unity and a declaration of war against the establishment in Washington, DC. The speech was vintage Trump: politically incorrect, critical of both parties, amped up, biting, strongly delivered, and wildly ambitious. Anyone who believed Trump would change his beliefs or style when he assumed the office of the presidency was proven wrong. He’s not going to change. And he’s not going to let up.
Trump espoused his worldview in remarkably few words. He is a vituperative critic of the post-Cold War international system. Where the architects of that system see it as a bulwark of stability and global prosperity, Trump sees it as diminishing the United States in favor of foreign countries and an international class of wealthy political and financial elites. Washington has been serving its own interests, he said, and not the people’s. That ends now. His America will turn inward, focusing on domestic stability, education, infrastructure, and jobs. The one exception will be the fight against Islamic terrorism, where Trump is prepared to join with autocracies in pursuit of common goals.
Trump forcefully rejected identity politics. Racial and ethnic identities, he said, are less important than our status as American citizens. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” There are no hyphenated Americans in this worldview, only Americans and outsiders. And Americans are to be privileged over outsiders. It’s been said that American presidents are replaced by their opposites. What a contrast to Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, where he called for a “world without walls.”
This was not a programmatic speech. There will be more policy specifics when Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on his budget proposal. Instead the inaugural address was Trump distilled: nationalist, populist, and ready to fight.
He better be. Trump delivered his combative speech in the midst of the very establishment he is attempting to overthrow. Surrounded by Bushes, Clintons, Obamas, Bidens, and Ryans, Trump aligned himself with the crowd against the celebrities and VIPs on the dais. Mass rallies, social media, and sheer force of personality are his weapons as he attempts to defenestrate the ruling class in Washington and bring a new spirit of patriotism to America. He draws strength from his gut connection with Jacksonian America—a connection deepened and enriched by one of the most combative, polarizing, bold, evocative, and indeed revolutionary inaugural addresses in American history.