By E.J. DIONNE JR.
Within 48 hours, we learned that Donald John Trump intends to govern as the same fiercely angry man who shook the country in 2016. He confirmed that his administration intends to show no regard for norms —or facts.
His opposition has drawn the obvious conclusion. Its only options are to contain the damage Trump can do, to restrain him in his use of power, and, eventually, to defeat him.
In his inaugural address, Trump offered no outreach to his adversaries with a take-no-prisoners message. They heard it, and were ready to return the favor. Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington and its counterparts in cities and towns across the country drew millions who signaled plainly that they would not be cowed into silence or demobilized into a sullen indifference.
There was a jubilance in the Washington gathering because so many were grateful to each other for showing up in such large numbers. Those who had spent January 20th in gloom spent January 21st experiencing a sense of relief: In the face of the political troubles to come, they would have allies and friends ready to act.
If power shifted decisively on Friday to Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, passion switched sides as well. As the marches showed, the political energy in the country is now arrayed against Trump and his agenda.
Republicans no longer have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to kick around. For years, they were able to direct the country’s discontents toward a president they loathed and then a Democratic nominee they disliked even more.
With control of both elected branches, the GOP, including Trump, is the Establishment. Over time, this will make the faux populist anti-Establishment appeal of Trump’s inaugural address ring empty.
It was a speech that offered a dark and gloomy view that cast the world’s richest nation as a victim of the rest of the world. He spoke of “carnage” in the country and declared: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,”
Trump invoked a radical nationalism not heard from any president of either party in the post-World War II era. His doctrine owes far more to the ideology of European Far Right movements favored by his senior advisor Steve Bannon than to the views of American presidents from Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes and Barack Obama.
“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world,” Trump said, “but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” If some might see this as refreshing honesty about how countries actually behave, it was hard to escape the idea that Trump’s “America First” doctrine foreshadowed a willingness to destroy international systems, built in large part by the United States, that have, on the whole, protected us and advanced our values.
And for those who worry about Trump’s devotion to democratic values, there was this disconcerting sentence: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”
Solidarity is wonderful. But the word can look like a threat when used in a way that seems to subordinate free speech and open debate. More disquieting, the nature of this solidarity will be defined by a man who now possesses awesome powers and has shown only disrespect for his foes and for an independent media.
By Saturday, Trump and his press secretary Sean Spicer had ratified these concerns. Expressing rage at the media for pointing out how relatively small Trump’s crowds were—a hint of how shallow his movement’s roots might be—both Spicer and Trump lied outright in exaggerating the numbers of those who attended Trump’s inauguration in comparison with the throngs that celebrated Obama’s.
Challenged Sunday by Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” as to why Spicer was asked to go to the podium and offer falsehoods, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s senior counselor, came up with a soundbite that George Orwell might have been embarrassed to include in “1984.” It will go down as a defining phrase of the Trump presidency.
“Sean Spicer, our press secretary,” she replied, “gave alternative facts.”
“Alternative facts?” an astonished Todd exclaimed, and then he spoke the truth: “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”
Fear of a presidency willing to declare that up is down and down is up is why so many rallied to say a very loud no.
(Washington Post Writers Group)