By Mark C. Poloncarz, Erie County Executive
For the 45th time in our nation’s history, a peaceful transition of power occurred in the United States. Due to our nation being one of the few democracies that is not parliamentary in nature, the inauguration of a new president is one of those uniquely American events. Since George Washington first took the oath of office in New York City, and then more importantly, relinquished it so John Adams could take the oath in Philadelphia, inaugural addresses are meant to inspire the citizens to achieve the “better angels of our nature.” They are positive and uplifting, even when our nation faces a crisis.
Today’s address and the events surrounding it were different. From an inaugural address that identified our nation as a dystopian state, to protests turning into anarchical riots in parts of our capital, to an inaugural parade that had more participants than watchers and started as night fell, the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as our president was the darkest one I can remember. Even when a president I did not support was inaugurated I looked forward to watching the ceremony and hearing the new president’s address to learn not just what policy direction he would take, but the tone of his remarks.
Though I did not have high expectations such a speech would be given based on President Trump’s recent statements and choices for department secretaries, I still hoped to hear an address which offered a positive tone and an olive branch to all Americans, including the majority of voters who did not vote for him. Unfortunately that is not what occurred.
President Trump delivered another in a long line of campaign speeches that described, at least in my eyes, an America which does not exist. Yes, there are problems in our country that need to be resolved. There always are. However the description of America today was not the “shining city on a hill” that President Reagan would recognize, or a place called “hope” that President Clinton would remember, but a nation trapped in poverty, robbed of its potential, and stripped of its assets by others.
When the president talked of the loss of middle class’ wealth he spoke not of the great redistribution of wealth to the super-rich that includes himself which has occurred, but as if the vast majority of our taxes go overseas to support foreign nations, which is not true.
He talked about the shuttering of American factories and the corresponding laying off of workers in order to produce goods overseas, which I immediately thought was hypocritical of him considering so many of the products that bear his name are made outside the United States and he comes from the investor class which prioritizes profits over the American worker.
He talked about a society dominated by poverty, crime, and joblessness, a nation where the government was not serving its people, when in fact crime is down (especially violent crime), our nation’s unemployment rate is 4.7% after having been 10% early in the Obama Presidency (after the mess he inherited), and nearly 60% of Americans approve of the outgoing president who delivered on his promise of delivering health care to those without it.
He spoke as if our country was in a hopeless state, or as he called it “this American carnage.”
The nation President Trump inherits from President Obama is not in carnage but is in fact strong. Even if it was in deep crisis, a president should inspire his citizens to act, not point the finger of blame.
I was reminded of how when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933 FDR focused not on what was truly a hopeless condition to many, the Great Depression, but how we – the citizens of our country – could overcome the Depression by working together with our government. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously said, “you campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” It is true. Today was the day to leave the campaign speech behind and start to govern a nation as diverse and divided as we are.
That is not what occurred. President Trump did not spur our nation forward with a view of togetherness, or for that matter a description of what he wanted to accomplish, but castigated the government and others as the problem for all the ills that people feel. While he spoke of the people taking back its government, it was not all the people but those who supported him. It was a rehashing of many of his campaign themes. It was an angry campaign speech, from an angry man who now just happens to occupy the most powerful office in the world.
As if President Trump’s speech was not dark enough, we also had to witness a few mini-riots on the streets of Washington. Peaceful, non-violent protest is a hallmark of our nation. It has occurred at prior inaugurations and is symbolic of the freedoms of speech and assembly that are ingrained in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
While the vast majority of protestors acted peacefully, a select few engaged in criminal activity. Riots and destruction of private property are not only unacceptable, but reinforce our new president’s message that our society is indeed in great distress. While I would not be surprised to learn the individuals who engaged in today’s destruction have no real political affiliation at all, democrats and those who ascribe to a progressive liberal view need to reject such action. It does nothing to promote the views we support, and in the end will only hurt efforts to protect the rights and issues we hold dear. It was an additional stain on an already dark day.
When history is written on the Trump presidency today’s inauguration will be known as either the first page of a presidency unlike any other before or just a blip along the way towards a more traditional administration. I have no reason to believe it will be anything but the former.
Copyright Mark C. Poloncarz, January 20, 2017