The last time a Republican president gave an inaugural address, a dozen years ago, George W. Bush laid out a messianic vision of America’s role in the world.
“America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one,” Bush said. “From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth.”
It was thus U.S. policy, he declared, “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”
All in all, Bush invoked “liberty” 15 times and “freedom” 27 times in his speech.
Donald Trump used neither word in yesterday’s inaugural address, coming closest with a solitary reference to the “glorious freedoms” Americans enjoy.
Instead, Trump slimmed down America’s leadership role. Rather than ending tyranny, we will “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”
Meanwhile, we’ll just let “our way of life…shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.”
What is that American shining that Trump expects everyone to follow? “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” said Trump. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”
I’d say that gears us up for an international version of the Hobbesian state of nature — a war of all against all that promises to be nasty, brutish and, as global warming proceeds apace, pretty damn short.
America First, in Trump’s vision, entails not the pursuit of happiness but the pursuit of “solidarity.”
At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
That Bible reference was the speech’s cleverest stroke, with a dog whistle for those who know their Scripture.
The reference is to Psalm 133, just three verses long, which begins (in the King James Version): “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
The second verse reads, “It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments.”
In Hebrew, “messiah” (mashiach) means “the anointed one.” In the present case, that would be Donald Trump himself.