By emphasizing patriotism above all in his Inaugural address, Donald Trump harkened back to an outdated, racialized and classist order of America.
One in which it’s really not “America first,” but rather an America where wealthy white men and their accomplices get to enjoy the spoils—from Wall Street to the White House.
With an emphasis on “unity” and “patriotism” the address took a tone that was a bit removed from the incendiary, if not divisive rhetoric of his campaign. The problem, however, lies in the fact that this message is still not nearly as inclusive as his predecessor, now-former President Barack Obama, nor is it as welcoming as that of his rival, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
In fact, it’s still as exclusionary as it was before, but with more polite and vetted language that may seem non-threatening on the surface. Even so, know the code.
The President pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution -- despite his continued disdain for the First Amendment rights of journalists, amidst constant controversy surrounding his discriminatory behavior and questionable business practices that target marginalized groups—including women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and other people who struggle to defend their civil rights.
While President Trump said that “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” he has not apologized for how his campaign promises and rhetoric routinely denigrated and played on stereotypes and tropes of people who aren’t anything like himself.
Trump, remember, is still the white, wealthy, cisgender, heterosexual male who bragged about his penis size at a Presidential Debate and his ability to grab any woman he wants by her private parts because he’s just that rich and famous.
He’s called for a Muslim ban. He wants a wall built between the U.S.-Mexican border, and has characterized Mexicans en masse as “rapists” and “criminals.”
When your actions are not in alignment with your values, no matter how much you profess to be non-racist, non-sexist, or non-xenophobic, you are indeed behaving in a hypocritical manner.
Trump’s inaugural address set a tone for the hypocrisy and gaslighting he may very well enact through his policies on vulnerable groups, as the prolific writer Lauren Duca noted at Teen Vogue. His targets most certainly include the broader Black Lives Matter movement, for which his consistent answer has been supporting the police and the so-called need for “law and order.”
There’s something lost, as I’ve said here before, when politicians, including Obama, emphasize that we are “Americans first.”
During his final State of the Union address in 2016, Obama prophetically stated that, "[I] can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I'll be right there with you as a citizen—inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far.” He added, "Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Latino or Asian … but as Americans first."
But for so many Americans, including and especially Black Americans subject to the horrors of the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the abuses of police forces mired in racism and implicit anti-black bias, patriotism is a scam. Patriotism is moreso associated with the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of history, both of whom, as so with their contemporaries, owned African slaves.
Patriotism was not created for marginalized people. It’s always been framed by, for, and within the halls of power and privilege occupied almost exclusively by rich white men—men like Donald Trump.
For the few times that Trump’s inaugural address mentioned Black or Hispanic people by name, most of his discussion featured coded references to their plights. But they were wrapped within his message that portends “patriotism” includes people from all walks of life even if they’re not white. It’s misleading at best, and a bold-faced lie at worst.
“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” Trump said Friday. “We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms.”
But we don’t.
People across the Black Diaspora, as well as many other people of color, remain subjected to racism in the housing and rental markets, in the disproportionate abuses from police officers, in routine daily instances of discrimination and subjugation, in their overrepresentation in the prison-industrial complex, and many other facets of public and private life. And according to court filings and other allegations, Trump himself has been directly culpable in the same old racist behaviors.
So even though every individual is united in their humanity, they must also reckon with and acknowledge their difference—not as a means of keeping people separate and segregated, but rather as a welcome opportunity to celebrate and commune in the diversity that makes America so great.
Because “Make America Great Again” must go beyond nominating an attorney general that has been responsible for subjugating the civil rights of people of color. It must mean appointing an education secretary without virulent anti-LGBT bias and opposition to public schools thriving and surviving at a time where they’re being challenged in cities such as Chicago.
It must mean upholding the agency and freedoms of women to do as they so choose with their reproductive freedoms, in accordance with their values and their faith.
That’s what makes his inaugural address not the “olive branch” it’s been celebrated to be. Far from it. It’s more so a polite indication and expectation of what’s to come, and why people need to unite in resisting.