Welcome to the first week of Donald Trump’s America, where the Trump presidency looks dismal, the opposition does not look much better, and the media are not up to the daunting job of coping with our new reality.
While I was strongly anti-Trump before the election, my first reaction to his victory was to give him a chance. “Not my president” is meaningless; the fact that he’s the president of the United States cannot be wished away, and it is in all our interests to hope that President Trump will do better than candidate Trump led us to expect.
Some of the things for which Trump has been criticized by the mainstream media would no doubt be targeted even if any other Republican were in office (such as the fact that his nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is interested in school choice).
But the problems with Trump’s message and personality are not going away.
His inaugural address was populist demagoguery and scaremongering. Trump’s America is a dystopian hellscape of dead factories, rotten schools and crime-infested streets — “American carnage,” as he put it. Yes, there is no question that we have real problems. But a comparison of Trump’s speech to the ones given by Ronald Reagan in 1981 and Barack Obama in 2009 — two presidents elected on waves of dissatisfaction with the status quo — shows a stark contrast.
Both Reagan and Obama listed problems and failings but also spoke movingly of ordinary Americans doing good things. Trump’s Americans seem to be helplessly waiting for the Great Leader to put them back to work.
Trump’s speech is also notable for the lack of any mention of liberty (and just one passing mention of American freedoms). Reagan praised America for unleashing the creative energy of the individual, but Trump talked only of our striving as a nation. In his America, there is only an undifferentiated mass of the victimized people and the bad Washington establishment that has been enriching itself at the people’s expense — and the leader who will fix this by fighting for the people. All problems, Trump suggests, will be solved if we have politicians whose allegiance is to America and the American people. (Unlike, presumably, the disloyal ones — including past presidents — in attendance.) The other magic fix is to buy and hire American; while Trump professes to seek friendship with other nations, he stresses that foreign countries are constantly ripping us off.
The next day, Trump seemed mainly focused on bickering with the media about the size of the crowds at the inauguration — confirming his reputation for pettiness and narcissism.
Meanwhile, massive crowds — women and men alike — joined the women’s protest marches across the country. While this display of resistance was heartening to many, other people who oppose Trump, including women, found them alienating. The march on Washington was dominated by the far left; among its star speakers was longtime communist stalwart Angela Davis, who has a long record of apologizing for left-wing dictatorships. An anti-abortion feminist group that started out as a partner in the march was booted. Many moderates were left feeling that this march was not for them.
The media, which will have to play a key role in holding this administration accountable, have been making their own missteps, bungling several stories in a way that can only help the Trump White House discredit them as “fake news.” Thus, a New York Times story asserting that energy secretary nominee Rick Perry had no idea what the department does turned out to be thinly sourced and likely inaccurate.
It’s going to be a long four years.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.