“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”
President Donald J. Trump spoke these words at his inauguration Friday, his voice not only echoing across the National Mall, but also transmitting via television and radio to spectators across the globe. It was a powerful sentence, certainly carrying with it a sense of pride, of future triumphs and sky-high anticipation, but also containing a sense of foreboding, of challenges both issued and accepted.
He called out to the middle and lower classes, to the impoverished and the work weary, promising to bring the wealth back home, to create an America truly run by the people for the people. His speech called to those whose pursuit of the American dream has left them defeated, but while his words were appropriate, his speech was tainted with the same divisive mantra that laced his campaign: us against them.
It was subtle, veiled behind rousing images of the America he wants us to believe he can pull from the rubble he described as our current society, but it was there all the same. While his campaign featured pointed tweets, barbed comments and blatant insults (“nasty woman,” anyone?), his inaugural speech featured the quieter variety of Trump’s superiority.
He spoke of “American carnage,” describing, not inaccurately, families “trapped in poverty” and “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones,” then held America up as an exemplary nation, stating, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather, to let it shine as an example. We will shine.”
He called out the governing body of the past decade or so for protecting itself and forgetting the people. He alleged that we have valued foreign affairs over local affairs, bolstering foreign industry and military while allowing our own to wane. He placed himself and working Americans in one category and polarized the American government as selfish, as blind to American suffering and misguided in their priorities at the expense of our country and people.
The point is not the insults — the politicians who made the decisions Trump criticized are fully grown men and women who are more than capable of ignoring a few underhanded slights. What worries me is that even in his inauguration speech, which was written with the aim of unifying the country after the tumultuous campaign season, Trump maintained his “us against them” platform: the working class against the upper class, the majority of the county against Washington, the “civilized world” against radical Islamic terrorism, the United States against the world.
His campaign was laced with divisive rhetoric. In trying to relate to the American people, he set himself apart from other politicians, highlighting the negative aspects of politicians and hailing himself as separate, different, one of “us” not of “them,” and despite needing to now mend the fractures his campaign has perpetuated, his inaugural address only continued this trend of garnering support through alienation.
Perhaps I’m being too critical, looking too closely at the sentence structure and implicit meanings behind our newest president’s words – It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. But hear this: Be wary of the “us-against-them” mentality that is so prevalent and so easy to subscribe to. We’re a country that has truly built itself up from nothing, and it’s easy to want an enemy to fight, but now, after a polarizing election season, when global affairs are even more tangled that usual, we need to strive for unity. We need to begin searching first for our similarities, for the hundreds of points where we can connect, and building upon them, not shining a spotlight on our differences and the places in which we feel slighted.
Trump hails “America first.” It’s the line that will be remembered and quoted, even when the rest of his claims, platitudes and criticisms are forgotten. But I have to ask — is America first really the most important ideology on which to build this presidency? What about humanity first? People first? Equality first? Unity first?
It’s not us against them, and it’s not America against the rest of the world. It’s time we stop viewing ourselves and our affairs — both local and foreign — through a lens of separation. Divisive rhetoric only serves to perpetuate dissent; it’s time we make a conscientious effort to move toward unity.