Tag: inaugural address

Trump’s Inaugural Address, and the Words That Were Missing

Donald Trump, in his inaugural address today: “The oath I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” A harmless rhetorical flourish, no doubt, and one that Trump is by no means the first to make. And yet…

Note that the President’s actual oath of office says nothing about allegiance. It instead contains verbs promising two types of action: “faithfully execute the Office” and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Its exact text reads: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

If a President does those two things, the American people as a whole will benefit. So no big difference from what Trump said, right? Maybe. 

The words of the actual oath require the President first to uphold legality, even above his vision of what might be good for the people. This element of legal constraint is lost if a President sees his allegiance as being to someone rather than something. As colleague Tim Lynch wrote on Wednesday, “There are many other checks and balances in our system, but the oath of office is supposed to be the first line of defense.”

Now history may look back and see this as an unimportant choice of words. Trump’s actions one way or the other will speak louder than his shades of wording.

Still, I wish the speech had used the word “Constitution,” or “law” in a way beyond the phrase “law enforcement,” or “Framers” or “Founders,” or “Declaration” or “Amendment” or “individual” or perhaps “rights.” The one occurrence of “right” was in a passage about “the right of all nations to put their interests first.”

During his campaign, Trump’s style was noteworthy for how seldom he mentioned the Constitution, the legal limits of government power, or the rights of the individual. Let us hope that these themes emerge in future speeches by the new President.

Obama’s Stark Vision of the World

Charles Krauthammer zeroes in on the stark worldview expressed in President Obama’s inaugural address:

Obama is the apostle of the ever-expanding state. His speech was an ode to the collectivity. But by that he means only government, not the myriad of voluntary associations — religious, cultural, charitable, artistic, advocacy, ad infinitum — that are the glory of the American system.

For Obama, nothing lies between citizen and state. It is a desert, within which the isolated citizen finds protection only in the shadow of Leviathan. Put another way, this speech is the perfect homily for the marriage of Julia — the Obama campaign’s atomized citizen, coddled from cradle to grave — and the state.

“Nothing lies between citizen and state.” Exactly. That’s why Obama can say things like

No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future. Or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.

Well, of course not. No one thinks a single person could. It takes many people, working together. But even Krauthammer misses the point that it takes businesses, coordinated by prices and markets. Krauthammer correctly chides Obama for thinking that collective action means only the state and not voluntary associations. But most of our needs are met, most of our progress is generated, by neither the state nor charities.

We are fed, clothed, sheltered, informed, and entertained by individuals, working together with other individuals, mostly in corporations, with their activities coordinated by the market process. As I’ve said before, libertarians “consider cooperation so essential to human flourishing that we don’t just want to talk about it; we want to create social institutions that make it possible. That is what property rights, limited government, and the rule of law are all about.”

What kind of a bleak worldview is it that can look at the bounty provided by business enterprises and charitable associations and see a barren wasteland enlightened only by the activities of the federal government? President Obama’s worldview, apparently. And Hillary Clinton’s.

My further thoughts on Obama’s collectivist speech in this 10-minute audio podcast.

Obama’s Andrew Shepherd Moment?

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen today laments what he calls the “cratering of liberalism.” Cohen remembers that the “liberal agenda once included confiscating handguns and abolishing the right to own one.” Yes, agreed, we should remember that. Liberals would really like Obama to channel Michael Douglas, who played a liberal commander-in-chief in the Rob Reiner/Aaron Sorkin film, The American President (excerpt below). Should we do this in the inaugural address or the state of the union? That’s probably the debate among Obama’s speechwriters.