January 20, 2017 [LINK / comment]

#45: Donald J. Trump is inaugurated president

Putting to rest fears of some kind of disruption, the inaugural ceremonies for the nation's 45th president, Donald J. Trump, went off without a hitch today. The incoming and outgoing First Families (Obamas and Trumps) and Second Families (Bidens and Pences) assembled at the White House for a trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building. With all the hard feelings from the 2016 campaign, it must have been extremely tense. Watching on TV it seemed surreal, hard to believe.

Just before noon, Vice President Mike Pence took the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts, and [after] a hymn, it was Trump's turn to recite the oath. It started to rain as soon as President Trump began his inaugural address, which was short (only about 18 minutes) and direct. He used the same plain language that he did in his campaign speeches, and he apparently wrote almost all of it himself. It started off on a good note, with gracious words to former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, but it quickly returned to his standard populist campaign rhetoric in a very blunt way. The following key excerpts are from the (revamped) whitehouse.gov website.

January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.

That was obviously aimed at the "middle America" demographic base which carried Trump to electoral victory. He then went through a litany of instances in which other countries allegedly have taken advantage of the U.S., with devastating effects on the middle class in small towns across the Heartland. That set up the main focus of the speech:

From this moment on, it's going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
I will fight for you with every breath in my body -- and I will never, ever let you down.

In sum, his speech was a breathtaking in style and content, a sharp break with tradition. The strongly nationalistic views of the new chief adviser Steve Bannon were on full display, and mainstream Republicans were probably horrified. Trump did not cover every key issue or mention particular problem areas in the world, keeping a sharp focus on his main goals. Those of us who hoped that he might shift gears and become more pragmatic once he actually became president were disappointed. If he succeeds with a economic and trade policy based on "protection" as the organizing principle, they will have to re-write all the economics textbooks, as such an approach has rarely if ever worked in the real modern world. Anything is possible, but some things are more likely than others.

I was also struck by Trump's ambitious promises, such as "... Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth." Really? I had been thinking that Trump was continuing to act unpresidential in the days leading up to his inauguration so as to set extremely low standards for what could be considered a successful term in office. Granted, many of his followers don't take some of his words at face value (as I noted yesterday), but by promising so much, he has made success that much harder for himself.

Peaceful parade, violent protests

The officials then retired to dine in private inside the Capitol, so the inaugural parade didn't start until mid-afternoon, and by the time it ended in the early evening, hardly anyone was left in the bleachers in front of the White House. That was a weird scene. Attendance at the late-afternoon festivities may have been suppressed by the violent street protests taking place about a half mile away.

Anticipating sharp clashes, police had cordoned off a large portion of central D.C., but it didn't stop anarchists from starting a riot along 12th Street NW, just outside the secured zone. It looked and sounded pretty dramatic on TV, but it was contained and over a hundred people were arrested. Tomorrow there will be an even bigger protest by women against Trump, and the anarchists will probably try to infilitrate the peaceful protest ranks and foment more violence. I happen to sympathize with those women, who have every right to feel outraged and insulted by the many hurtful words and deeds of the new president.

The ban on emoluments

Some people have argued that President Trump's worldwide business holdings by their very nature put him in the position of violating the Constitution, which prohibits public officials from receiving any gifts or favors from foreign countries:

Article I. Section 10. Clause 8. No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

If foreign officials were to stay at one of Trump's many hotels around the world, that provision might apply. During his press conference earlier this week, Trump announced that he would turn over all profits from those operations to the U.S. Treasury, but few people are satisfied with that proposed arrangement. There are actually two other clauses pertaining to emoluments, including one in Article II concerning the president, but they don't seem to apply to this question. So what is an emolument? According to Webster's New World Dictionary (Third College Edition), it means "gain from employment or position; payment received for work; salary, wages, fees, etc."

In short, Trump's vast business empire creates a massive headache for those seeking to ensure he complies with the law, and with ethical norms. Trump probably should have gone much farther in divesting his problematic assets, but he may be reluctant to take a loss by cashing in now. What else could we have expected? There will no doubt be complaints and accusations of corruption throughout Trump's entire term, making it harder for him to govern effectively.

As dubious as I am of President Trump's agenda and suitability to lead the country, I also have deep reverence for the institutions of American government, so I plan to give him the benefit of the doubt at least for the first few weeks of his presidency. During this "honeymoon" period, I hope he acts in a way that unifies the country.