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The Cutting Edge: Blog of Ed Knudson
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Violence, Racism, Authoritarianism Characterize Trump's Inaugural Speech
1/21/2017

Put your mind a few miles up in the sky over the United States, high enough so you can see the whole United States and all its cities, but low enough so you can see where moving trucks are moving people from place to space. Then fast forward a sort of movie film of what you see from about the second world war which ended in 1945. What you see is the "settlement patterns" of Americans over that period. And the primary pattern in cities would be blacks moving from the South to northern cities and then white people moving out of cities into suburbs and leaving the inner cities to black people.

I spent several years in black Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s. I was there when Martin Luther King came one summer to lead a "movement to end slums" which was not so successful as his campaigns in the South. I learned then that "slums are profitable," that lots of white people make lots of money from black slums, especially slum landlords. It is not black people who created slums, it was white people trying to make as much money as possible.

And white people have not wanted to do anything to make life better in the inner cities over these past decades. They have blamed blacks. The only thing whites will pay for are more and more police in black areas.

Now along comes Trump and in his inaugural speech the inner cities play a big role. He mentions them again and again and refers to them as "carnage" full of gangs and drugs. He is here making another racist appeal to white people, reinforcing the racist views of whites about inner cities, trying to portray himself as the great white savior, the one who will be able to save white people from the hordes of threatening black people, save white people from that terrible black president of the past eight years who Trump had claimed was not even a citizen of the United States. It was racists who voted for Trump, who responded to his racist rhetoric.

Racism is at the center of the history of the United States, the civil war, the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and the settlement patterns of cities across the country. And Trump talked about all this with very violent rhetoric, talk of carnage and blood.

And then, of course, he painted such a bleak picture of the United States left after the first black president that only he could save. Trump placed himself as the savior of the country. It is all going to stop right here right now, as he takes power. Wow, he has quite a high view of himself but it reminds me of authoritarian dictators. The facts are that immigration is down, there are more Mexicans going back to Mexico right now than are coming here. Crime is way down. Unemployment is way down. Lack of health insurance is way down. But Trump says Obama was a "disaster". And many white people agree emotionally, without thinking, based on their racism, reinforced by right wing radio every day all day for the last eight years. Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levine and the others talk racism constantly, filling the minds of white people with anger, hostility, fake news and political ideas actually opposed to their own self interest. Just listen to them, as I have done from time to time. You will hear talk about the inner cities all the time, just as Trump did in his inaugural speech, talk that is based on fear, fear of those terrible black people.

We actually, emotionally, are not far from the civil war and lynchings. White people really still hate black people and have elected a president based on racism. What is strange is that northern whites, whose forbears gave their lives fighting against slavery, respond so willingly to violent, racist talk against blacks. White people living around cities such as Detroit literally and viciously hate black people in the city, have allowed Detroit to become a wasteland in many ways. And then these whites, having moved away and refused to tax themselves in such a way as to help the city, even while they enjoy the benefits of living next to the city, blame black people for the conditions of the city. They allow their minds to be blinded by their racism to their own responsibilities and the way they have been benefitted by government and the city.

It is all very irrational. Racism is irrational. But that is what Hitler used to unite white Germans against Jews, blaming Jews for the problems of the country. Trump has blamed blacks and immigrants and this won him the election. But they are not our problem, just as Jews were not the problem in Germany. But it makes me worry because in this country we seem to be moving to an era of such a high level of irrationality that we will never be able to actually see and solve our real problems. Fascism is highly irrational. And now we have a president who is so irrational, who speaks in such a way that you cannot believe anything that the man says. Words don't matter to him. Only being the center of attention matters to him. In a majority white nation he has learned how to speak against blacks in a way to earn the adoration of whites. But in so doing he is going to literally wreck the country. His election is a very serious sign of the decline of the nation.

In his speech he used the phrase "America First". Steve Bannon is probably behind the use of this phrase; he knows what it means historically. It refers to a movement in the 1930s of those who admired Hitler, people like William Randolph Hearst, the media mogul, and Charles Lindberg. They didn't want Roosevelt to go to war with Hitler. They admired authoritarian leadership and nationalism. So that is what Trump apparently wants to associate himself with, he wants to be the "great leader". Only he can save the country from the carnage of the blacks and browns.

Dan Rather has been listening to inaugural speeches for a lot of years. Here is what he thought of Trump's speech.
And so it begins.

Of the nearly 20 inaugurations I can remember, there has never been one that felt like today. Not even close. Never mind the question of the small size of the crowds, or the boycott by dozens of lawmakers, or even the protest marches slated for tomorrow across the country. Those are plays upon the stage. What is truly unprecedented in my mind is the sheer magnitude of quickening heartbeats in millions of Americans, a majority of our country if the polls are to be believed, that face today buffeted within and without by the simmering ache of dread.

I have never seen my country on an inauguration day so divided, so anxious, so fearful, so uncertain of its course.

I have never seen a transition so divisive with cabinet picks so encumbered by serious questions of qualifications and ethics.

I have never seen the specter of a foreign foe cast such a dark shadow over the workings of our democracy.

I have never seen an incoming president so preoccupied with responding to the understandable vagaries of dissent and seemingly unwilling to contend with the full weight and responsibilities of the most powerful job in the world. I have never seen such a tangled web of conflicting interests.

Despite the pageantry of unity on display at the Capitol today, there is a piercing sense that we are entering a chapter in our nation's evolving story unlike one ever yet written. To be sure, there are millions of Donald Trump supporters who are euphoric with their candidate's rise. Other Trump voters have expressed reservations, having preferred his bluster to his rival's perceived shortcomings in the last election, but admitting more and more that they are not sure what kind of man they bestowed the keys to the presidency. The rest of America - the majority of voters - would not be - and indeed is not - hesitant in sharing its conclusions on the character and fitness of Donald Trump for the office he now holds.

The hope one hears from even some of Donald Trump's critics is that this moment might change him. Perhaps, as he stood there on a grey, drab, January day, reciting the solemn oath of office demanded by our Constitution, as he looked out across what Charles Dickens once called the "city of magnificent intentions", he would somehow grasp the importance of what he was undertaking. Perhaps he would understand that he must be the president of all the United States, in action as well as in word. Perhaps, but there has already been so much past that is prologue.

There is usually much fanfare around inaugural addresses. They are also usually forgotten - with some notable exceptions. I think today will be remembered, not so much for the rhetoric or the turns of phrase but for the man who delivered them and the era they usher us forth.

Mr. Trump's delivery was staccato and there was very little eye contact as he seemed to be reading carefully from a teleprompter. His words and tone were angry and defiant. He is still in campaign mode and nary a whiff of a unifying spirit. There was little or nothing of uplift - the rhetoric of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan. We heard a cavalcade of slogans and one liners, of huge promises to "bring back" an America - whatever that really means to many who look at our history and see progress in our current society. The speech started with a message of an establishment in Washington earning riches on the back of struggling families across the country. It was an odd note, considering the background of many of his cabinet picks. President Trump painted a very dark picture of the current state of our nation, beset by gangs and drugs and violence, regardless of what the data shows. His words swelled with his economic populism and the nationalism of "America first." The applause was sparse, and I imagine many more being turned off, even sickened, rather than inspired by what our new President had to say. President Obama looked on with an opaque poker face. One could only imagine what he was thinking.

It bears remembering that one never can predict the arc of a presidency. It is an office that is far too often shaped by circumstance well beyond its occupant's control. Those challenges, wherever and however they may rise, now will fall on the desk of President Trump. We can only see what will happen. We hope, for the security and sanctity of our Republic, that Mr. Trump will respond to the challenges with circumspection and wisdom. Today's rhetoric was not reassuring.

Our democracy demands debate and dissent - fierce, sustained, and unflinching when necessary. I sense that tide is rising amongst an opposition eager to toss aside passivity for action. We are already seeing a more emboldened Democratic party than I have witnessed in ages. It is being fueled by a fervent energy bubbling from the grassroots up, rather than the top down.

These are the swirling currents about our ship of state. We now have a new and untested captain. His power is immense, but it is not bestowed from a divinity on high. It is derived, as the saying goes, from the consent of the governed. That means President Trump now works for us - all of us. And if he forgets that, it will be our duty to remind him.



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