Donald John Trump—locker-room lout and promiser of greatness—is the American president, but whether he is bound for Mount Rushmore or will lead his nation to mortal ruin, only God knows.
Trump swore solemnly on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible on Friday to protect a Constitution he may never have read, his impossible hair and inspired “deplorables” holding fast in a drippy rain that began the instant the new commander-in-chief walked to the podium to read a dark, staccato inaugural address that promised an immediate end to “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives.”
“This American carnage,” said President Donald Trump, “stops right here and stops right now.”
Hundreds of thousands of supporters, 99 per cent of them Caucasian, inundated the National Mall in a city where Trump won only four per cent of the November vote, chanting his name and the initials of the country he vowed to put first in every endeavour. Meanwhile, hundreds of anarchists, anti-capitalists and all-around sore losers tore through downtown Washington, chaining themselves to security barriers, hurling waste at Republican party-goers, setting trash bins on fire, smashing windows and wreaking—in the presence of 30,000 law-enforcement officers and National Guard troops—far from enough havoc to forestall the swearing-in.
The ceremony on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol completed the astonishing transformation of a spoiled, antsy, fistic brat from outermost Queens, N.Y.—a petulant, priapic little Richie Rich, driven to woo myriad molls and models and to glue his gilded surname onto hotels and penthouses around the world—into the anointed prophet of the forgotten white worker of the rusted-out central states.
“We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon,” Trump rasped on the West Front, reprising a familiar theme from the raucous rallies that propelled his astonishing trajectory. Above him, atop the white-washed dome, the Statue of Freedom turned the other way.
“One by one,” Trump said, “the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future.”
Trump’s inauguration—perhaps the first of his two inaugurations—placed his famously short fingers on the nuclear plunger, fulfilled the peaceful transfer of American administrations for the 57th time since 1789, and rendered the eloquent Barack Obama obsolete, yesterday’s man. Obama departed the city within minutes, bound for patrician Palm Springs, Calif., and his new life as a still-young Moses, leading his lost tribe of liberals through the golf courses of irrelevance and despair.
Performed in public, in the open air, before a (still-)free press and the emissaries of despicable autocracies and inimical sheikdoms, the inaugural ceremony was hailed—by its own participants, and the masses below—as a beacon for a jealous world; “commonplace and miraculous,” as Ronald Reagan once observed. Trump’s oath-taking was witnessed by four of his predecessors, ignored by dozens of elected Democrats and Katy Perry, and attended, in an ivory dress and tight lips, by Hillary Clinton, the woman he defeated in November under the 18th-century formula that favours small states over large states and laughs at the majority’s will.
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Moving toward the lectern, he shook hands with the outgoing president who had tarred him as unqualified, and then with the Senate minority leader whom Trump himself—this would-be apostle of unity—has tainted as the Democrats’ “head clown.”
At 70 years, seven months and six days of age, Trump became the oldest of the 44 senators, generals, governors, and Congressmen who have attained—by merit or via the accident of vice-presidential succession—the mightiest and loneliest position ever created by man. He is the first non-politician to attain the office since Dwight Eisenhower in 1952—a multi-billionaire, six-time bankrupt, father of five, husband of three, and alleged assaulter of dozens of other women—soon to sleep in Lincoln’s bedroom, eat at Jefferson’s table, and work at the Roosevelts’ desk.
Trump’s inaugural address was briefer than most and grounded in pledges to build new highways, mend old alliances, eradicate radical Islamic terrorism, “think big and dream even bigger.”
“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” the 45th president said in a passage that may be interpreted by Vladimir Putin as licence to export Mother Russia’s military and cyberwar machines wherever he sees fit, without fear of American sanction. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example—we will shine—for everyone to follow.”
Much as he did on the campaign trail and at the Republican National Convention, Trump singled out for his instant remedial attention: “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flushed with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”
Yet, viewed from a wider perspective, history will remember that the United States was peaceful and prosperous as Donald Trump began his presidency, with unemployment, interest rates and gasoline prices low, consumer confidence high, the economy growing steadily if slowly, and few fresh graves being dug across the Potomac at Arlington.
This trend may continue. On Jan. 20, 2009, the day that Barack Obama swore his oath on Abraham Lincoln’s bible, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 332 points. On Friday, when Donald John Trump placed his hand on the same holy book, it was up 72.