The United States rightly prides itself on the peaceful transition of administrations it carries out on the 20 January every four years. Something it has done since 1789 and the inauguration of the nation’s first President, George Washington. There is a lot to dislike about the American political system, from the influence of money and lobbyists to the impossibility of third-party candidates making a dent in any campaign, but every four years in November a general election is held and a standing President is re-elected or a new President is elected. Since the 1940s Presidents can only serve two terms as elected President, which President Obama has done. Therefore, in the general election in 2016 we were going to see a new President. Most people expected the new President to be the country’s first female President – Hillary Clinton, who as a long time Senator for New York, former First Lady during the administrations of Bill Clinton and a former Secretary of State in President Obama’s first administration. Things didn’t go to plan in November and the property tycoon billionaire and reality TV star fulfilled an ambition – or threat depending on your point of view – to run for the Presidency of the United States. His decision from the start was derided as an egotistical, self-obsessed man trying to boost his image, his business opportunities and his TV career. Few, at first, took him seriously and even fewer believed he would get the GOP nomination, let alone win the general election. Donald Trump, however, focused on the millions of Americans who have become disillusioned with politics, with career politicians and with the whole Washington-centric political landscape and with the often calamitous effects globalisation is having on their lives. These ordinary Americans saw in Trump an outsider, a non-politician (indeed, Donald Trump has no political experience at all) who is vowing to take back America for them from the grasp of Washington politics and a man who would protect them from the effects of globalisation. Such feelings are understandable but most people deeply underestimated them. Despite Trump’s unbelievable and often outrageous policy suggestions – not to mention his crass behaviour and personal history, these Americans didn’t care and in perhaps the most shocking general election result in American history they elected Donald John Trump to be the country’s 45th President.
At 5pm GMT (12 noon in Washington), Donald Trump took the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. watched on by his family, his Vice-President Mike Pence and four former Presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and of course, Barack Obama. President George H. W. Bush was absent as he is in hospital with pneumonia. I was pleased to see President Carter. His administration in the late 1970s is the first I have clear memories of. President Carter, himself a major surprise victor back in 1976, was looking robust and happy, exchanging smiles, handshakes, hugs and welcomes with many other guests. With the reciting of a few dozen words, Donald Trump became the most powerful man in the world – and the world watched with mixed feelings – from jubilation that their man had won over the political establishment, to feelings of nervousness and concern of what the new President would do now that he occupies the Oval Office.
Trump’s inauguration address didn’t inspire much hope in me (video / text). It was full of bleak imagery of a devastated America – of abandoned factories, rampant crime and a failed education system – all of which he summed up as “American carnage”. Of course, America does have a great deal of social and economic problems but such negative imagery being used by Trump is not out of concern for the Americans suffering, but is a means to an end as he then plays on fear and despair to vow to correct all of America’s problems and to do so from day one: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” He spoke of the forgotten people of America and vowed that he will “fight for you with every breath left in my body and I will never ever let you down,” and that on this day the people once more became the rulers of the nation. This latter point sticks in my throat. His pledges to restore American greatness and to give back America to its citizens are fine words and sentiments, but I find it incredulous to think that millions of Americans are buying into the notion that Trump is the man who can achieve this. Trump throughout his campaign was vague to the extreme on just how he plans to “make America great again,” offering only meaningless statements of intent that offered nothing in the way of substance or clarity on how they would be achieved. Furthermore, does anyone believe that a multi-billionaire with an appalling business record or failed businesses, controversies and bankruptcies is the man who can be expected to make an entire nation great again? Sadly there are millions of just such people and I fear that their genuine grievances against the American political system and the problems they face in a world of globalisation have and are being used by Donald Trump to secure the Presidency. I believe that when Trump’s Presidency is over these millions of ordinary Americans are going to be bitterly disillusioned. As the President’s official website is transferred to the new President, it too was vague on any policy detail and completely ignored whole areas of policy important to America and the world. As the BBC reported this evening, the new website mentioned only six areas of policy: energy, foreign policy, jobs and growth, military, law enforcement and trade deals. The website completely fails to mention, among other things, civil rights, LGBT rights, healthcare or, initially at first, climate change.
Trump’s vision casts shadow over day of pageantry (the Guardian)
Germany attacks President’s speech for “highly nationalistic tones” (the Independent)
Billionaire TV star becomes US President (the Independent) – includes video of oath-taking
Trump @POTUS on Twitter
As President Trump took office, the official Twitter feed of the President of the United States was transferred to the new President. Just a short while before leaving office, President Obama had tweeted one of his final posts to @POTUS saying that it had been the honour of his life to serve and that serving had made him a better leader and better man. His final tweet was a call to believe in change: “I’m still asking you to believe – not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.” It is not clear if Obama will continue to use @POTUS44, which was created when Trump took over @POTUS, but his 14.1 million @POTUS followers will be automatically transferred to Trump’s @POTUS account and it will be up to them whether they choose to remain followers. President Trump’s first post was a link to his Facebook page’s full text of his inauguration speech. Controversy immediately ensued over the new @POTUS account when the site used a crowd image from President Obama’s 2013 inauguration – seemingly to counter the reality that although hundreds of thousands attended today’s inauguration it was well below the numbers at Obama’s two. When people began reacting to this, the site changed the image to a stock image of the American flag and then to a photo of Trump looking out of a window. I don’t find it surprising that Trump’s Twitter team would do this, but it is just a little pathetic. It is not surprising that the numbers of people at the inauguration today would be well below those at Obama’s. In 2009 America was putting the first African-American into the White House and hundreds of thousands turned out just because of this historic fact. The two photos below show Obama’s 2009 inauguration and today’s for Trump. They clearly show the smaller turnout, though many more were expected to be in Washington later on after the inauguration for Trump’s inaugural day parade.
Donald Trump’s use of Twitter in the campaign and since his election victory in November has often led to controversy and concern. It seems he likes to wake up in the night and go on Twitter, where he picks fights with people who don’t agree with them, whether they be Hollywood actors or civil rights leaders. This, I feel, is a fundamental flaw in Trump’s character and one that which doesn’t bode well for a President of the United States. He reacts without thinking. He says what he immediately feels without considering the consequences and, above all, he cannot take criticism. This may have been fun to watch when he was just a TV reality star but it has became a concern when he became President-Elect. Offending Meryl Streep may not have international consequences, but putting down an iconic civil rights leader, John Lewis, was disturbing to watch. What will happen if one night the President decides to go on Twitter and insult the Chinese Premier or President Putin?
Protests on Trump’s big day
Along with the hundreds of thousands who turned out to celebrate the beginning Trump’s Presidency, thousands of protesters were also on the streets of Washington making themselves heard and seen, sometimes violently. Among the protesters were Black Lives Matter, environmentalists and LGBT rights activists. Some took part in a march through downtown Washington D.C., smashing windows and fleeing police as they went, eventually being brought under control by the police who made arrests. Others held sit-ins at inauguration check points, with some chaining themselves to gates and effectively closing some check points to visitors. Others protested with visual images such as badges and hats to highlight individual issues such as healthcare and Trump’s “vulgar comments about assaulting women.” Some protesters even handed out free weed while many more simply boycotted the inauguration altogether and stayed at home. You can read more about the protests: BBC News website, the Guardian, the Independent, Reuters or the New York Times. You can find some videos of the protests on YouTube.
Trump gets to work
President Trump has already begun work in his new job, signing various orders and bills. Amongst these are the nomination papers for his preferred Cabinet, a bill that allows General James Mattis to become his Defence Secretary and a proclamation declaring a national day of patriotism. General Mattis has been given a one-time exemption to serve as Defence Secretary, circumventing a federal law that states former members of the armed forces now out of uniform cannot serve in the top job at the Pentagon for at least seven years – an idea designed to prevent undue influence of the military in an administration. Other measures of Trump’s promised 18-point day one plan that have already taken place include the Department of Housing and Urban Development suspending President Obama’s planned reduction of mortgage insurance premiums, aimed at making buying a first home more affordable. The new official White House website also suggests that Trump’s first priority will be the elimination of climate change protection plan. Read more about his day one actions at ABC News, CNN and Reuters.
Farewell to President Obama
After eight years in the White House, Barack Obama and his family now must adjust to life beyond the goldfish bowl of Washington. Unlike previous former Presidents he will continue to live in Washington – after an initial break – so that his youngest daughter can complete her education. The Obamas plan to open a “centre for citizenship” in Chicago and President Obama will no doubt get to open a presidential library as is the tradition with former Presidents. President Obama made it clear that if he felt the need to speak out on the actions of the Trump administration he would do so, but it is likely that he will largely follow the example of his predecessor George W. Bush and remain largely out of the political limelight. Obama himself said that he appreciated President Bush’s decision to refrain from criticising his administrations. You can read more about past Presidents lives after Washington HERE, or more about Obama’s plans at the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Time Money. Watch President Obama’s leaving the White House video.
Click HERE to view photos from Day One of the Trump Presidency. Or click HERE to view newspaper front pages published on Saturday 21 January 2017 marking his inauguration day. Or click HERE for photos of the various Inaugural Balls.