The Corner

Thoughts on Trump’s First Inaugural

1. It isn’t my thing, but Trump’s speech was a genuinely powerful expression of right-wing, working-class communitarianism. The point isn’t just that Trump is a nationalist. Rubio is a nationalist too. It is that Trump’s is primarily a we’re-in-this-together nationalism rather than primarily a free market–constitutionalism–liberty nationalism. We are too used to hearing communitarian rhetoric exclusively from the left and with a cosmopolitan rather than a nationalist bent.

I heard most the sentiments in today’s Trump speech expressed more than a decade ago by a retired industrial worker. Such people (and there are millions of them) have been almost entirely unrepresented in our presidential politics. Not anymore.

My great worry is that Trump will end up discrediting what is true and important in their worldview.

2. The anti-Trump violent protests are both disturbing and disgusting. Even one-tenth as much violence by tea-partiers at Obama’s Second Inaugural would have led America’s journalists to sucking their thumbs and wondering if the right had descended into a fascist movement. Then again, they did the same thing after peaceful tea-party protests. Remember the wave of pro-Trump post-election violence that was revealed as being largely a collection of hoaxes? The last several months have seen a series of real anti-Trump riots and massacres by left-wing looms while liberal journalists cringe in the presence of their (presumably) pro-Trump plumber.

3. Trump’s argument that the nation exists to serve and protect its citizens seems like common sense, but to a wide section of elite, it seems like prejudice. They seem to believe that the nation exists to serve humanity, with the nation’s citizens as either in line with everyone else on the planet, or else a selfish impediment to prioritizing the needs of better, braver, worthier peoples. Ace of Spades had a hilarious (NSFW) parody of that kind of thinking.

4. On the other hand, a nationalist communitarianism without any human-rights universalism turns you into General Zod. It can lead you into thinking that it is a smart and good idea to steal Iraq’s oil.

If you look closely, you can see some of that universalist humanism in Trump’s speech. There are times and places where people are primarily citizens in their relationships. There are other contexts where family or religious commitment should have priority. In the present, most of our political elites have slipped to the other extreme, of a hypocritical and self-serving cosmopolitanism where they talk like citizens of the world but prioritize their own social circles over the rest of humanity and the rest of humanity over their less fashionable countrymen.

5. I hope the Trump administration pursues much less foreign-policy retrenchment than is implied in his inaugural speech. Hopefully, his speech is an opening bid in rebalancing the defense spending between the U.S. and our allies. The best-case scenario is that Trump’s Buchananite rhetoric leads to a Bob Gates–inspired burden-sharing in foreign relations. The most reassuring thing I have heard about Trump and foreign policy was that Trump was taking the advice of Bob Gates in picking Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.