The ‘American Carnage’ Speech

Trump’s inaugural address indicates that his presidency will be just like his campaign.

The ‘American Carnage’ Speech

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

By Peter Fenn | Opinion Contributor, USNews & World Report

Jan. 23, 2017, at 12:20 p.m.

Clenched fist salute. Hardened jaw. As dreary and downcast as the rainy weather. Depressing. Or as Donald Trump tweets so often: “Sad!”

If you listened to Trump’s crass campaign speech on Jan. 20 – not an inaugural address – you would come away with an image of America in the deepest, darkest depths of its history, with everyone beside him and behind him to blame. Only he, Donald J. Trump, will save us.

If you expected something different from what you have seen and heard from Trump over the past year and a half, forget it; what you saw over all that time is what you’re going to get.

This will be forever known as “The American Carnage Speech.”

For my nearly 94-year-old father, who has all his marbles, this speech was particularly galling. Just like many of his generation, he grew up during the Great Depression, he fought Hitler and Mussolini in Italy during World War II and he lived through those periods of real carnage. While the baby boomers came of age with the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, fearing a war between the Soviet Union and the United States, my Dad served in the Kennedy White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Now that was a time when the U.S. and the world faced possible carnage.

What we have now is a country that has emerged from a deep and dangerous recession with unemployment falling to half of what it was, now 4.7 percent, a stock market that has tripled since its low point eight years ago, an auto industry that has been saved and average earnings on the rise. The threat of nuclear Armageddon is past and we see the end of American involvement in two wars. Do we face serious problems to be solved? Of course. But are we in the throes of a cataclysmic disaster in America? You have got to be kidding.

What we have seen in the Trump campaign, culminating in this address, is a rejection of reason, a nihilistic vision of America that demands closing our borders, curbing civil and individual rights and pulverizing the social contract with our citizens. All this from a president who has determined that to achieve his objectives, truth will be the first casualty. Facts don’t matter; tweets that are wrong don’t matter; sending your political operatives out to deny the truth is now a daily occurrence since he placed his hand on that Bible. The operative Trumpian phrase, uttered by Kellyanne Conway over the weekend, is “alternative facts” – otherwise known as falsehoods.

The destructive nature of all this is inescapable – from little things such as crowd sizes or who is better on “The Apprentice,” to big things such as our relationship with our allies or what the real nature of the Russian-Trump arrangement is or has been. We are faced with a man in the White House who is constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. And to him, it does not matter. It is about winning, but winning what? He does not understand governing; he does not understand solving public policy problems; he does not revel in the details of the issues. He will govern by gut. He will make decisions on the fly, just as he tweets on the fly. By all accounts, he has the attention span of a gnat. He can delegate to Mike Pence or whomever, but at the end of the day he is the one who sits in that Oval Office. The hard decisions come to him, as they have to every president for over 200 years. One page flash memos won’t cut it, a clenched fist or angry retort won’t solve the problem and blatant narcissism will simply lead to disaster.

Declaring war on the press or Democrats or Hillary Clinton or the CIA or those who question him is getting old very fast. If he chooses to demonize and degrade and destroy our democracy in order to save it, we will suffer the consequences.

I cannot believe that even the most loyal of Republicans are buying what he is selling, and they must be deeply worried about these first few days in office. A number of Republicans may have thought things might get better after he won, but Trump is not a reassuring figure. In fact, his speech has been condemned by conservatives and liberals alike (George Will: “Trump Gave the Most Dreadful Address in History;” New York Times editorial: “What President Trump Doesn’t Get About America”).

Let’s face it, Donald Trump is not capable of changing. There is no transformation. The American Carnage Speech says it all.

So when my father tells me that Trump is a wolf in wolf’s clothing, I take notice.