Quite apart from the fact that he can’t eradicate terrorism without looking at why it flourishes (something Donald Trump showed he had no interest in, for this was the most nationalist, selfish inaugural in US history), his 20-minute commercial for Trumpism is likely to be the finest rallying cry the cultists of Isis have received since they started chopping off heads, blowing up monuments and destroying the beliefs of their co-religionists.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. We will bring back our dreams. Protect our borders from the ravages of other countries. Yes, all this and more.
And what “ravages” would they be, I wonder? The Middle East got not a whimper in this tweet-fest, save for that one belligerent “eradication”. Indeed, Trump plans to “completely” eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” without the slightest indication of how this ambitious project might be completed.
But we can guess. Just look at previous presidents at their inaugurals. Back in 1957, Eisenhower told Americans that “only in respecting the hopes and cultures of others will we practise the equality of all nations”. Take a look at George W Bush – when we thought he represented the worst kind of presidential monster America could produce – who at his second inaugural said that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands”. The best peace in our world, he added, “is the expansion of freedom in all the world”. Bush even mentioned the Koran.
Compared to the platitudinous, snide, divisive, war-mongering rant the world received from Trump, George W was a visionary.
No-one expected Trump to go along with Obama’s high-class inaugural street cred about seeking “a new way forward” with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect”. After Islam, Trump went for crimes, gangs and drugs – “American carnage”, he called it – and the need to “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries”.
Quite a lot of nations in the Middle Eastern region, in which Isis leapt out at us, would also like to protect their borders from foreign invasion by the US – Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind – and from the “carnage” of unmanned drones and special forces operations and massive arms shipments to states whose citizens flock to the Isis colours: Saudi Arabia pops up here, although we can be sure Trump has not the slightest intention of interfering in the Kingdom’s affairs.
But maybe “defending other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own” was intended to frighten the Gulf potentates who are Trump’s natural friends rather than Nato. “From this day forward” – the nearest, I suppose, to Kennedy’s “Let the word go forth” – “it’s going to be only… America first.” This was a far cry from the same Kennedy’s call for a struggle against “the common enemies of man” (tyranny, poverty, disease, war). All Trump could talk about was American poverty – the other three ‘enemies’ did not cross his lips as he addressed the people of the richest country on earth.
Outsiders can’t begrudge a president who wants to heed the call of a people who believe they have been marginalised – especially by the elite and privileged few, although we all know that elitism and privilege are the hallmarks of Trump’s own proposed new cabinet.
But there was a lack of grace, of eloquence, of charity, of compassion for anyone outside America that marked the inaugural speech of the 45th president. And if you strung out the quotes – almost every single one – each would make a perfect tweet. Is that the way the man thinks? This was a commercial break with a sporting victory: America will start winning again!
No wonder that, in these next 24 hours, media editors are going to be fighting over the best inaugural soundbites. Linguists should put this stuff through a semantics machine. We will get the job done! That all changes right here – and right now! The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer! When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice! I will never, ever let you down! We will bring back our dreams! We will shine for everyone to follow! We must think big and think even bigger! The time for empty talk is over! You will never be ignored again! Trump even thought his country was standing at the heart of “a new millenium”, 16 years after it began.
It’s easy to say that something was getting loose here. Does America no longer exist in a world in which others desire justice and human rights, two qualities which Trump totally ignored? Is America’s only war with “radical Islamic terrorism”? And to win this particular victory “completely”, how will he treat the Muslims of America unless, when wounded, they “bleed the same red blood of patriots”?
But fear not. The world’s media will be giving this wretched man the benefit of their democratic doubt. Politicians will whinge and whine at Trump’s vindictiveness (Michael Gove set the standard a few days ago) and Theresa May has already shown us how she’ll slide away from Palestine in the interests of the new US administration. The Arab states themselves – wait for it – will be among the most fawning of the new president’s acolytes. Israel doesn’t have to bother.
I can do no better, perhaps, than quote the great Israeli philosopher/activist/writer/patriot/leftist iconoclast Uri Avnery, a 93-year-old veteran of Israel’s first war, who said a few hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump that “he will be an entertainer president… the question is, do we really want the most powerful man in the world to be an entertainer? Or an overblown egomaniac? A man who knows nothing and believes that he can solve everything?”
Avnery, already hard of hearing when I last saw him in Tel Aviv, recalled going to school as a little boy in Nazi Germany. The inauguration in Washington was a “Historic Day,” he wrote. “I don’t like Historic Days. I remember such a day when young men with festive torches and arcane symbols on their arms were parading through Berlin.”