Trump and Circumstance


Donald Trump did not disappoint in his first weekend in office if you were one of 63 million Americans who voted for him.

In his inaugural address he positioned himself as the lone sentinel against the political elite and he put the nations of the world on notice that he sees world order and economics as pure competition America intends to win. Trump’s new deal requires all others to be on the losing side.

Both declarations can be considered bad manners in politics and international diplomacy, but let’s set that point aside, because Trump supporters are not concerned with such things. While those who voted against Trump see him as a bully, those who voted for him see the American government class and other countries as the bullies and Trump as the only one standing up on their behalf.

So Trump’s inaugural address delivered. The signal has been sent that a new man is in charge who will make all decisions based on what is in America’s best interest. The premise of Trump’s message is that absent his vision, the political leadership of the country, including President Obama, has not put America first. Obama may believe his slow cooked, thoughtful decisions were made in the country’s best interest, but Trump promises decisions that deliver immediate gratification. Dealing with unseen ramifications are matters to be considered separately and with similar — in the moment — analysis of the scorecard.

This view presents two challenges. President Trump was not the only politician on the inaugural stage Friday afternoon who got there as the result of an election. Members of Congress who listened as Trump declared, “The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” must have taken offense with his characterization of their motives and results. He will now need to work with all of them to accomplish his own goals. Rarely does a relationship started with an insult go well and politicians, generally speaking, have long memories, competitive personalities and a well developed sense of revenge.

From an international perspective, Trump has more than telegraphed his intentions. Any world leader listening to the new president’s address would have to conclude the United States no longer plans to play fairly on the world stage. President Trump is unconcerned with how the rest of the world views us. He is most concerned with showing his domestic audience he is fighting for them. Fierce competition is always a part of international relations, but Trump has dropped any pretense of cooperation unless it benefits the United States. America has an unfair advantage and he intends to leverage it to tip the scales even further in our direction. This too is a bullying approach that in human relations leads to resentment. There is an important distinction between putting America first as a matter of standard practice, and delivering an opening jab to the world from the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

From his first day on the campaign trail, Trump — like Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side — tapped into one of the most important observations of this political moment. The American people perceive their political leaders as “all talk and no action.” Trump has promised that the “hour of action” has arrived.

This relentless approach to problem solving has long been the fantasy theme of political movies about U.S. Presidents who cast risk aside to do what the audience agrees is the most emotionally satisfying action of the moment. But those stories are movies. Fiction.

Trump won by ignoring convention. Can he lead that way? We are about to find out. The day after Trump’s swearing-in hundreds of thousands of people protested his presidency in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country. The protests seemed to be an ineffective gesture, because as President Obama said eight years ago, “elections have consequences.” As anti-Trump demonstrators crowded the National Mall, Trump took a seat in the Oval Office to begin the work of fulfilling his vision.



Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.

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