|World looks to the United States as Trump era begins|
“You know I’m not someone who breaks promises,” Trump tells Israel Hayom about relocating U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem • Ahead of inauguration, Trump the showman knows that when it comes to delivery, presentation and visuals, there are no second chances.
|Donald and Melania Trump after landing in Washington, Thursday | Photo credit: AP|
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God.”
After uttering those words on Friday afternoon (Washington time), Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Barack Obama will become a former president. A single moment that changes the world. In any case, how many times in a lifetime do we get to see a flamboyant New York billionaire, a reality TV star and professional performer enter the White House, against all the odds and prognostications?
Incidentally, the words “so help me God” were added spontaneously by the first president, George Washington, and the phrase henceforth became part of inauguration tradition, even though it is not officially part of the oath. This tension, between spontaneity and the version uttered for generations, is perhaps the whole story in a nutshell.
Like many before him in the exclusive club of American presidents, Trump knew from the start of his campaign that American voters are looking to fix something when they elect a president, particularly if his persona has that special mix of traits capable of inspiring the masses.
In 1960, when 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower finished his second term in office, the voters elected the far younger John F. Kennedy to replace him, instead of Eisenhower’s vice president. In 1976, in the wake of a corrupt Richard Nixon and the presidential pardon he received from his successor, Gerald Ford, America wanted the furthest thing from a corrupt president and elected an evangelical peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, who was rumored to have never uttered a lie in his life. After Carter emerged as a blundering, unimaginative leader scorned by the international community, voters again went in another direction and elected a middling Hollywood actor by the name of Ronald Reagan, who knew how to stand his ground and be America’s salesman to the world.
Obama, too, learned how to tug on those strings. Eight years later, however, he has forgotten that what brought him to power — the desire for a larger-than-life president — could also open the door to the White House for his political adversary, Donald Trump. Americans wanted change, and that’s what it got with the first president without a political or military background. The message was delivered in the voting stations, and now it’s Trump’s turn to run a different type of campaign — a campaign against the establishment from both parties. For Trump, after all, the campaign never truly ended, and the race for his re-election in 2020 has already begun in earnest. Quite a few conventions are about to be thrown out the window at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and as Trump becomes the first tweeter-in-chief — with everything that entails.
Indeed, there were those this week who wanted to remind us that Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, received 2 million more votes than Trump — but it’s irrelevant. Trump’s strategy was built on the model of winning 270 electoral votes. Hillary’s strategy, in contrast, was “now it’s my turn in line,” and many blue-collar voters — those who felt Obama had merged with the East and West Coast elites — didn’t buy it. Anyone currently complaining about Trump and American voters should first and foremost look in the mirror. And at Obama.
Even today, two months after the elections, many are still struggling to accept Trump’s victory. Remember Menachem Begin, circa 1977?
Remember how Yitzhak Ben-Aharon and the Mapainiks refused to accept his victory? It seems that in the America of today, too, some people would have no problem getting rid of the people. Such are the new liberals. In California and New York, people cannot come to terms with a red America.
Although Friday’s inauguration ceremony is the 58th in number, this one is truly historic and unlike anything we have ever seen. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t eagerly awaiting Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin; two leaders with large bank accounts and bigger egos, whose relationship will be the most important global story in the coming years, with China firmly in the picture.
Patience, though — protocol must first be observed. The expected will become the unexpected, yesterday’s enemies will perhaps be the partners of tomorrow. After Obama reshuffled the deck, our hand now includes an ace (Czar Putin) and a king (or a sultan to be more exact) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is with these leaders that Trump will have to make deals. This is the legacy Obama has left him.
Jackson, corner of Trump
Trump’s adversaries, whether in the primaries or the general elections, forget one important detail: When you are a super-brand, it is hard to change the way you are perceived across the globe. They tried in vain to paint him as arrogant, as disconnected from the people, as utterly inexperienced politically — but in the midst of their efforts, they forgot that voters don’t care what he did in the past, they care what he is doing now. It’s enough to look at the voter segmentation — whether in the primaries or general elections — to see that those who questioned Trump’s character failed miserably.
In the primaries he won the coastal regions, where Jeb Bush was supposed to be most popular; in the evangelical conservative states he defeated the conservative, Ted Cruz; despite efforts to paint them as enemies, he received more support from Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney; and almost half the women voters gave their vote to Trump, even though he has been described as an irredeemable chauvinist (it’s hard to forget the recordings that supposedly destroyed his campaign).
The general elections made it undeniably clear — the people don’t want the elites telling them what to think and who to vote for; counterintuitively, the people chose someone from the elites to do the job of taking down the establishment government. In other words, the 2016 version of Andrew Jackson. Why Jackson? Because he was a populist president, who wasn’t afraid to take on the banking system when he realized it benefited the cities and discriminated against the periphery.
Jackson, however, did more than wage a no-holds-barred war on the elites. He was also a champion of American nationalism and saw no contradiction between advancing the rights of the individual and building a strong America; an America unafraid of declaring its beliefs and values; a proud, self-respecting country that doesn’t cower before other nations in search of favor.
From Jackson’s perspective, the political system should be a reflection of the common man, but when it becomes an entity unto and for itself, it should be smashed to pieces — even if that means going against your own party. This message worked for the 7th president, and it worked (at least in the 2016 elections) for the 45th president. It shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that The New York Times reported this week that Trump’s speech will be short, digestible and replete with Jacksonist motifs.
In all likelihood, Trump will try putting these Jacksonist policies of American pride on display, even by revoking certain foreign policy elements that both parties have adhered to for decades: beginning with the annulment of free trade agreements, and including the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. On Tuesday I sat down with him and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, one of the architects of his election victory, for a chat. I reminded them of something he had told me in a previous interview.
Q. Mr. Trump, you haven’t forgotten your promise on the matter of moving the embassy to Jerusalem?
“Of course I remember what I told you about Jerusalem. Of course I haven’t forgotten. You know I’m not someone who breaks promises.”
Trump, like Trump, turns everything into a production. When he transfers the embassy to Jerusalem, it will be hard to miss. For now he is keeping all relevant details of how and when close to his chest.
However, incoming White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Thursday said an announcement on the matter was forthcoming.
“Stay tuned,” Spicer told reporters, when asked about the issue at a briefing. “There’ll be a further announcement on that.”
“The president has made it very clear that Israel has not gotten the attention it deserves or the respect in the last eight years. He intends to really show his respect for Israel, the importance of it in the Middle East,” Spicer said.
The person entrusted with the preparations for the inauguration ceremony is Tom Barrack, who told the New York Post this week that Trump is involved to the very last detail. Despite Barrack’s pleas to rest and let him handle the ornate event, Trump understands that when it comes to delivery, presentation and visuals, there are no second chances. The nation’s first impression of him has to be as successful as possible, which is why he is completely immersed in the inauguration ceremony.
Nothing can be done, the man has the DNA of a businessman and TV personality: show business on two feet. In addition to being commander-in-chief, it appears Trump will also be producer-in-chief during his presidency. The cabinet will carry out policy, but Trump will aggressively handle the marketing, similar to his campaign and the transition period between election victory and inauguration, when he jumped from factory to factory and secured agreements to preserve jobs. He created the national agenda via Twitter and made sure every appearance came with a catchy message — even if a tad tempestuous. In doing so he essentially accustomed the viewer at home to a new presidential pace, before ever being handed the keys to the White House.
Many events are taking place in Washington this week. They began on Sunday, Jan. 15, with a Tweet by Trump which for all intents and purposes launched the celebrations. The large, official events began Thursday, with Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence visiting Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony.
From there they continued to the Lincoln Memorial for a welcome celebration titled “Make America Great Again.” Yes, the same catchy slogan that carried him to victory. The slogan was initially mocked — but became a winner. The ceremony on Capitol Hill on Friday will also include a prayer service led by a number of religious figures, including a rabbi. That’s how it goes in America: There is no official religion, but religion as an institution is honored in the symbols of the state, because Americans believe that the pursuit of liberty is also a form of service to God. In December, Trump brought the phrase “Merry Christmas” back into style and didn’t view it as offensive to non-Christians, among them his Jewish daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
The fact that many well-known figures won’t attend the event, in contrast to previous inaugurations, is also an advantage from the president’s point of view. Barrack said Trump wants the celebrations to look like he’s come to Washington to start working, not have a party. The events are “mostly about America getting back to work,” Barrack told the New York Post.
In a Dec. 23 Tweet, Trump named the performers who would take part in the “people’s” event. He wants an inauguration for blue-collar Americans. Yes, Trump of all people, the businessman who lives in Trump Tower, is now identified more than anything with the working class in states ravaged by unemployment.
Prior to the presidential oath, we should see an image that is also the message. The message of unity: According to tradition, the previous White House tenants step out to join the ceremony on Capitol Hill, accompanied by the new tenants. This time, this image is more important than ever, if one wants to piece together a fragmented America — particularly when Democratic lawmakers are protesting and boycotting the event. In this manner, too, Trump will evoke Andrew Jackson, even if unintentionally: Jackson is the one who started this tradition in 1837, when he handed the reins of government to the president-elect, Martin Van Buren.
A speech for the ages
It is hard to recall the last time an inaugural address drew this much attention. In his speech, Trump will attempt to outline his vision for America in the next four years. This speech has only one equal, the State of the Union address the president delivers before Congress once a year.
Trump often delivers his most powerful rhetoric when he speaks from the cuff, tossing the talking points his aides have given him into the garbage and simply shooting the breeze in everyday language. It’s how he sparked interest and charmed his supporters and the media, and it’s how the public best receives his messages. This time, however, the standing obligates him to take it down a notch, and more than likely that’s what he’ll do. He understands that to show his critics he is ready for this lofty mission, his conduct on Inauguration Day is critical.
When he approaches the microphone after giving his oath, after the 21-cannon salute, he will need to speak like his predecessors in office. This time there is no room for improvisation; he will have to compress his “I believe” for the next four years into terms the Washington elites, the New York liberals, the laborers in Wisconsin and the farmers in Iowa will all understand.
One thing Trump knows how to do better than any other politician is simplify the message. The question is whether he can do so in such a formal setting. Trump will give a foundational speech, even if American presidents have always come to learn that history has plans of its own. In 2001, when George W. Bush gave his speech, he didn’t mention the words “terror” or “Iraq,” but these two topics essentially defined his eight years in office.
As a general rule, inauguration addresses first and foremost reflect the speaker and what he represents, not what his policies will be in actuality. Thus, for example, Kennedy’s speech will be remembered because it symbolized the promise for change, and because he told the people, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
America has undoubtedly never seen a president with such scant political experience take the oath of office. Some argue this is an advantage. Trump doesn’t owe anything to anyone, and he will be the first independent president to fight for the average American against both parties’ establishments. In his view, if they continue attacking him from both directions, he will be well on his way to another election victory in 2020. We’ve already said: He’s a brand, which is why regular attacks, painful as they are, don’t cause him tangible damage. Fact: The man entered politics in June 2015, and is entering the Oval Office in January 2017.
To find a parallel to the president’s lack of political experience, Time magazine reminded us this week that we have to go back to Eisenhower. Like Trump, “Ike” also entered the White House as a newcomer to the political scene; but unlike Trump, he was the supreme allied commander in World War II. Truman, whom Eisenhower replaced in 1953, pitied his successor. He will step into the White House and begin barking orders, Truman assumed, but nothing will get done because the White House doesn’t run like the military. What about Trump, then? In fact he’s used to giving orders and mobilizing employees.
Meanwhile, as long as we’re on the topic of Inauguration Day traditions, it’s also customary for the unfortunate loser of the elections to be invited to the ceremony. Ever since the elections, Hillary Clinton has gone underground. When election night began on Nov. 8, she was certain she would win and shatter the glass ceiling. Ultimately, the only thing to shatter were her illusions. It’s not how she, or the media for that matter, expected her day of destiny to unfold.
The star journalists went to cover Clinton’s victory, the rest were sent to Republican campaign headquarters. We all know how that ended.
But with all due respect for Hillary Clinton, who thought she would make history as the first woman president, and Michelle Obama, a woman who many in the Democratic camp would like to see succeed where Hillary failed, Melania Trump, the former supermodel, will be in the lead female role at the ceremony. Tom Barrack recently told ABC that she will be shown prominently throughout the ceremony. “But I’d like to leave room for a surprise,” he said without elaborating.
The world’s president
In 2009, when Barak Obama was sworn in for the first time as president, there was some confusion and embarrassment. When Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swore in the 44th president, Obama began saying the oath before Roberts finished speaking. The result: They spoke at the same time, disrupting one another. For millions of Republicans, it was the first clue into the failed presidency of one of the worst presidents in U.S. history.
America has already had one president who wasn’t taken very seriously: William Henry Harrison. The result: At his inauguration in 1841, he wanted to impress the audience so badly that his speech dragged on for two hours — the longest in the history of the ceremony. Hoping for something similar from Trump is apparently a waste of time. It’s not his cup of tea; he prefers short, precise messages on Twitter.
But he needs to beware on this front as well: If the American voter becomes exasperated by four years of Tweets, and if he uses Twitter and social media to assail his detractors, Americans could turn their backs on him.
Trump’s presidency officially begins today, in a world undergoing significant changes. Europe, which still functions according to values suitable to the aftermath of World War II, doesn’t get this. Trump, will accept Russian, Chinese and Turkish uniqueness.
Can Trump, like Nixon — who ended the war in Vietnam and thawed relations with China — successfully end the war in Afghanistan, eradicate Islamic State and open a new era of diplomatic relations with Russia and China? If Islamic State has to be destroyed to protect America, he won’t hesitate to cooperate with Putin and Erdogan to that end. The fears over what he is liable to do as president will possibly will give him the space to maneuver, and the respect, required for such measures. Most importantly, it is possible Trump will give America’s enemies the feeling that it’s better to come to agreements with him. He intends to utilize his domestic policies to influence his relations with foreign leaders — and vice versa: He won’t hesitate to leverage the internal crises to bolster his standing opposite world leaders.
And befitting of a flamboyant businessman like himself, everything has to happen big. In the Trump era, political programs and entertainment programs will be just as popular, but let us not be mistaken: Trump is stepping on Capitol Hill on Friday to start working. He plans on continuing the campaign he began in June 2015, which helped him take America by storm and made him a hero for those left behind in the Obama years; those who wanted to feel proud of their country, but instead felt that liberal America looked down at them.
While Trump becomes president on Friday, he knows that even before making his first decision he has already changed America from the foundation. Now he must prove he can jolt the office of president the same way he jolted the country. He promises to be a different type of president. Will he follow through?