Donald Trump’s inauguration heralds a new age of arrogance and says something sad and scary.
By Frank Bruni – The New York Times.
WASHINGTON — The word popped up in the opening sentence of Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address and in the opening paragraphs of George W. Bush’s.
“Humbled,” each man said of himself, and while it was pure cliché, it was also what we wanted and needed: a sign, no matter how rote, that even someone self-assured enough to pursue the presidency was taking the measure of that responsibility and asking if he was worthy of it.
Does that question cross Donald Trump’s mind?
I don’t think so. I certainly didn’t get that sense from his inaugural remarks, and not just because “humbled” went missing. As he stood just feet from four of the last six presidents, he trashed them, talking about a Washington establishment blind and deaf to the struggles of less fortunate Americans.
He characterized his election as part of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen.” Forget about his loss of the popular vote. Or his 40 percent favorability rating. Or the puny crowd at his inauguration in comparison with the throngs at Obama’s eight years ago. Trump remained a singular man on a singular mission — a legend in his own mind.
We’ve already become so accustomed to his egomania that we sometimes forget how remarkable it is. He’s a braggart beyond his predecessors in the Oval Office, and that says something sad and scary about the country that elected him and the kind of leader he’s likely to be. With Trump we enter a new age of arrogance. He’s the cock crowing at its dawn.
His first stop after arriving here on Thursday afternoon for the inaugural festivities was his recently opened hotel, a transformation of the Old Post Office. He pronounced its principal ballroom “gorgeous” and declared that “a total genius must have built this place.” He was referring to himself.
Then, talking about his nominees for top administration jobs, he said: “We have, by far, the highest I.Q. of any cabinet ever assembled.” That’s obviously unknowable. But it’s entirely in keeping with his nonstop insistence that everything about him is magical, epochal, amazing.
As he went through the traditional inaugural paces, he toggled between the dignified bearing expected of a man in his role and the coarse bravado that he prefers.
His remarks to his supporters at the Lincoln Memorial early Thursday evening included the assertion that his victory was really theirs. “You had much more to do with it than I did,” he told them. “I’m just the messenger.”
But then he recited, for perhaps the thousandth time, how emphatically he defied so many pundits’ predictions and how huge his rallies were. He has indulged this tangent so repeatedly that Politico recently published a story with the headline “Trump Can’t Stop Talking About How He Won.”
And while he kept his remarks at the inauguration brief and said “you” and “we” much more often than “I,” that’s exactly why they were so flaccid. To find his full voice, he must be singing his own praises.
It was a dark speech, bemoaning “this American carnage” of gangs and drugs. It was a mean speech, insulting every one of his new colleagues by describing politicians as “all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”
But mostly it was a flat speech, bereft of the poetry that this tense juncture called for. He used pared-down language, simple sentences and a sluggish delivery, as if he were reading to children. Call it the “Goodnight Moon” of Inaugural Addresses.
He put together that high-I.Q. team of his with few of the usual courtesies and considerations. None of his cabinet nominees are Democrats. None is Latino. Only one, Ben Carson, his choice for housing secretary, is black.
Many are billionaires or bigmouths whose outsize vanity mirrors Trump’s. Rick Perry came to his assignment as energy secretary from a stint on “Dancing With the Stars.” Carson’s palatial Maryland home has been described as a gaudy shrine to … Ben Carson, with plaques that honor him and photographs that glamorize him on prominent display.