Home Valley Advocate Under Trump, a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

Under Trump, a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall


Shortly after Donald J. Trump gave his inaugural address Friday, the Rev. Franklin Graham described the rain that began when our nation’s 45th president stepped to the podium as a symbol of blessing. After hearing Trump’s bleak and narrow vision for the United States, we’re not so sure.

Trump began his speech by thanking outgoing President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for “their gracious aid” in the peaceful transfer of power that is a cherished American tradition. But he said nothing of the role his predecessor had played in reversing a recession, reducing foreign conflicts, expanding health care, and healing racial divisions.

Instead, Trump launched into an attack on the federal government — including his predecessors and the Congress with whom he must work to deliver his promises — as a body that had forsaken its citizens.

“January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation once again,” Trump declared, as former presidents Obama, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush listened a few feet away. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

Trump went on to decry Washington elites who had enriched themselves as factories crumbled, jobs fled overseas, mothers and children languished in poverty, schools failed their students, drugs and gangs gutted communities, and American dollars went to help foreign lands.

“This American carnage stops right here,” he declared.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump continued, promising that government decisions on everything from taxes to trade to military investment would focus first on protecting interests at home. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first.”

Trump’s address sounded much like his campaign rallies. And to be sure, his words tapped into a vein of frustration that runs deep in the rural and industrial heartland of America, places hit hard by structural economic shifts, whose residents have too often been ignored by political and media elites.

It was those citizens who propelled Trump to victory, despite his loss in the overall popular vote. And it was clearly those citizens — including some of our Pioneer Valley neighbors — to whom Trump dedicated his first words as president.

“Hear these words,” he said. “You will never be ignored again.”

Trump is right to pay attention to such Americans. But as president, he is also responsible for those who did not vote for him, including people — women, immigrants, people of non-Christian faith — whom he was quick to denigrate during his campaign. Those people — who along with their allies staged protest rallies around the country last week, including in the Pioneer Valley — heard little to reassure them.

Trump spoke of uniting Americans during his address. “It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”

Those words could be read as a sign that Trump will work to bind the wounds opened in a bitter campaign. But given Trump’s quickness to lash out at those who disagree with him, we wonder whether his definition of patriotism will include those who want to participate in the American tradition of free and vigorous debate.

While the speech was short on policy particulars, Trump did hint at some of the practical goals of his broad agenda, including getting people off welfare and rebuilding roads, bridges and railways. These are worthy goals and represent a first opportunity for Trump to put his business acumen to use. Only time will tell if the Washington insiders he scorned again will provide the cooperation he needs; we encourage them to try.

The audience Friday included not just Americans, of course, but the people and leaders of other nations whose lives are directly affected by the White House. The message to them was clear: “America first.”

As satisfying as those words may seem on an emotional level, they neglect the 21st-century reality of nations whose economic, environmental, and defense destinies — including the fight against terrorism — are inextricably linked. As much as Trump and some of his supporters might like to turn their backs on the world, that has long since ceased to be an option.

Trump deplored insiders who enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary people, saying “Washington flourished but the people did not share in its wealth.” It remains to be seen how his cabinet appointees — who run heavily toward the biggest winners of a winner-takes-all economy — will help deliver his populist promise.

Just over a half-century ago, newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy declared, “Ask not what your country will do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Those words stirred the soul of a nation. For too many Americans, Donald Trump’s stirred only a melancholy rain.

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