There’s a steep learning curve ahead for our new president
In his inaugural address, Donald Trump returned to the major themes and talking points of his campaign. His promise to return power to the people and to tear down the establishment is what he’s been saying for a year. Given the split verdict delivered by voters in November, it was a bit surprising that there was nothing conciliatory in the speech. There was nothing that perhaps Trump would pivot or change in behavior now that he is president.
Given what we know of Trump, that wasn’t very surprising. Trump is Trump. But I was surprised by how flat the speech was, and how dark and uninspiring. Most presidents, no matter the na- ture of the times, try to use their inaugural speech to inspire and to profess optimism for the future. There was really none of that. Rather than speaking of America as a shining city on a hill, Trump painted a portrait of an abandoned town dimmed by time. At times it seemed he was trying to channel other presidents. His reference to unlocking the mysteries of space seemed to be an attempt to channel John F. Kennedy. When Trump said that it doesn’t matter which party controls government, it only matters that the government be controlled by the people, there were hints of Ronald Reagan. But both Kennedy and Reagan conveyed an optimism that inspired the better angels of our nature.
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first press conference to lecture the press and make a demonstrably false statement about inaugural attendance. Then, Kellyanne Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” the next day and coined a phrase that will forever haunt the Trump administration: Spicer had offered “alternative facts.” So now, every claim made by Trump or his team will be met with question “is that true, or is it an alternative fact?” The leader of the free world doesn’t care about crowd size at a speech, and his press secretary does not offer alternate facts. It was a rough first few days that culminated in Trump again claiming that he lost the popular vote owing to millions of illegal voters. Given that there’s no evidence to support any claim of massive voter fraud, that claim must be from the “alternative facts” file.
In Trump’s defense, it’s fair to assume that the presidency requires a steep learning curve even for folks who have governing experience. So that curve is going to be precipitously steep for someone with no governing experience. The next few months will tell us whether Trump is a quick study or if he thinks that he has nothing to learn. If it’s the latter, then it’ll be a long four years.
Todd Eberly, California The writer is an associate professor and chair of the political science department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.