I didn’t like Trump’s speech and I didn’t expect to. Why would I? His politics are not my politics, his populist style leaves me utterly cold, and the notion of “American carnage” on which his pitch so heavily rests has been overwrought from the start. I didn’t like the tone, either. There are many ways to say the same thing, and the “right” one is usually determined by the occasion. To my ears, Trump did not rise to this occasion.
All morning I’ve been getting text messages and e-mails from people who are still “shocked” that this happened. I’m not. I’d acclimatized to Trump’s nomination by the end of last May, and to his victory in the election within a few days of its arrival. More important, perhaps, I’d lost any illusion that he was going to “change” by around February of last year. What we saw on that podium is who Trump is. What he said in his address is what he believes. His style today has been his style for a while. He’s skeptical of trade, tough on crime, and thinks America is weak and embarrassed – just as he has since the 1980s. He’s said the things he said today for over a year, and he said them again today. Now, he has a chance to try out his theories.
Going forward, the politics will be fascinating. In his warm-up address, Chuck Schumer said little about “freedom” or “liberty” and failed entirely to mention the Founders. But that’s typical of today’s Democratic party. What’s not typical? That the Republican who came after him mentioned these values even less. In a sense, we still have divided government in Washington. For now, the GOP will paper over the cracks. But for how long? It cannot be escaped forever that Trump’s view of government and Paul Ryan’s view of government are a long way apart. The GOP tent is as big as it’s ever been.
On television, the word “radical” was thrown around with abandon. That’s not quite right, though. Or, if it is right, it’s a better description of where we are as a country than of Donald Trump alone. There was a lot of anger in this election, on both Left and Right. How, pray, do we imagine Bernie Sanders would have sounded in his inauguration address? In his style, Trump is more caustic than most. As an expression of Painite burn-it-downism, however, he matches his moment rather well.
Which is to say that Trump was a lot of things today. He was authentic, he was predictable, and he was reflective of the movement that made him president. But he wasn’t conservative. Not by a long shot. Whether experience or Congress can change him on that score will remain to be seen. For now, as for the last 18 months, Trump is going to remain Trump, with all that that entails and all that that forecloses.