Week In Politics: President Trump's Inauguration NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with David Brooks of The New York Times, and E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution about President Trump's inauguration.
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Week In Politics: President Trump's Inauguration

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Week In Politics: President Trump's Inauguration

Week In Politics: President Trump's Inauguration

Week In Politics: President Trump's Inauguration

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NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with David Brooks of The New York Times, and E.J. Dionne, of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution about President Trump's inauguration.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel with our regular Friday political observers - columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hi, E.J.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: And joining us this week from Arlington, Va., just across the Potomac, David Brooks of The New York Times. Hi, David.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let's talk first about one of the big themes in Donald Trump's inaugural address, one that we heard throughout the past year, the idea that American cities and manufacturing have declined terribly, dragging down middle America. To those he calls the forgotten Americans, Trump made this promise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, a promising start to a new presidency?

BROOKS: A daring start. You know, it struck me as very much a realigning type of speech, a speech that's really going to try to realign our politics. No longer the traditional arguments we've had over big or small government, but from bottom to top, rallying the people at the bottom against the people at the top, and a very bloody-minded view of the world, very zero-sum.

The Republican Party, which he more or less made direct assault upon in the speech, has always been a party that believes in growth and innovation and that it's not a zero sum world, that we can in the larger the pie with growth policies. But he is - if they're taking, then we're losing. If China is winning, we're losing if. Washington is winning, we're losing. And so I think the attempt is to totally reshape our politics and maybe win over some populists on the left.

SIEGEL: And that populist appeal, E.J., the dystopian vision of mid-America and the idea that Donald Trump will be the champion of forgotten Americans. Is it possible that he'll be the hero of the American working class?

DIONNE: I think it's highly unlikely given his Cabinet and given the policies he's going to sign. I mean, I thought the bleakness of this speech was astonishing. I heard New Leftists a half a century ago more positive about America. Abraham Lincoln was more upbeat during...

SIEGEL: During the Civil War, yeah.

DIONNE: ...The middle of the Civil War. This is an astonishing speech. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. And he made big promises to his base here. He says we will bring back our borders, we will bring back our wealth, we will bring back our dreams, we will bring back our jobs. And I think he's got two problems here.

One is Obama's left him with a really strong economy already, so he's going to have a really tough time pushing this up further. Secondly, he not only has a Cabinet of millionaires and billionaires as I said, including a lot of Wall Street people, but the policies he promises to pursue so far are not promises that are going to reach those folks. So I think he's created a real dilemma or a problem for himself.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you both about the fact that Donald Trump enters the presidency today with remarkably low poll figures for a new president. First of all, David Brooks, given that his party has majorities in both houses of Congress, does it really matter?

BROOKS: Yeah, it matters a lot because 'cause he doesn't - he's not a traditional representative of the party, so the party's not just going to snap into line behind him. His own Cabinet is not going to snap into line behind him. And as his popularity goes down, and I think the small crowds today is a bit of a sign of that, the lack of enthusiasm, the lack of at least broad-based popularity. Republicans are going to feel less beholden to him.

And one of the things we've noticed even so far among the - his supposed representatives talking about health care legislation on the Hill, they feel perfectly fine going against his stated opinions. His spokesmen feel perfectly fine saying he doesn't mean what he clearly wants to mean, so enforcing discipline among his own people is going to be a gigantic problem which will be made worse without popularity.

SIEGEL: E.J., Donald Trump did not seem to improve his - the opinion in which he's held by those who didn't vote for him since Election Day, but he did call for solidarity today in this speech. Is that a - some kind of appeal for national unity as you heard it?

DIONNE: Well, you know, he offered a take no prisoners message, and his adversaries are going to respond in the same spirit. There was no outreach to them at all. He had a little nice thing about Hillary Clinton later at the congressional lunch...

SIEGEL: Yeah.

DIONNE: ...But nothing in the speech. And I actually found that sentence very disturbing. He said, we must speak our minds, openly debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. Now, I love the word solidarity, but that word can sound like a threat when it's used in a way that seems to subordinate free speech and open debate, and that's at least one reading of that sentence. So for those of us who worry a bit or more than a bit about Trump's commitment to democratic values, that sentence is one I hope we don't have to come back to, but I think we might.

SIEGEL: Trump hit a second big theme from his campaign in the inaugural address, that Americans will not be neglected at the expense of U.S. obligations to other countries. In short...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: From this date forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.

(CHEERING)

SIEGEL: Big cheer there, David Brooks, for America first. How different do you think America's role in the world is going to be under President Donald Trump?

BROOKS: Well, he's going to try to make it different. Again, the zero-sum thinking, if they're winning, we're losing. Second, a reorientation of our politics. Both parties have been pretty pro the post-World War II institutions, the pro - the institutions of globalization. He clearly is going to be opposed to them. There are not many people in this country or in this government at least who agree with him. Even within his own Cabinet most do not agree with him.

And so one of the things that'll be interesting to me, there was sort of a slight difference - or a large difference between Trump the inaugural speaker and Trump at the luncheon who was very much the insider, palsy (ph) palsy with all the insiders. And so when push comes to shove on foreign policy issues, is he going to side with Gen. Mattis and some of the insiders who are much more pro-globalist, or will he stay with Steve Bannon? That, to me, is one of the large foreign policy questions.

SIEGEL: E.J., I went back to read the remarks of John F. Kennedy in his inaugural, that the U.S. would pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. What a dramatic change since those days in terms of presidential rhetoric.

DIONNE: The radical nationalism in this speech is a break with pretty much every president in the post-World War II era, and that Kennedy quote is a particularly good representation of that view. I mean, we've got to remember, America first is a very vexed slogan in our history. It was the slogan of those who didn't want to intervene in World War II against Hitler. And I think what's troubling is that if he were talking about just trade deals and saying a lot of Americans have gotten a bad shake out of trade deals, there were a lot of people who would agree with him and say we've got to do better by those folks.

But when he uses this language, it sounds like he wants to take apart international systems, international agreements, international organizations that on the whole have served American interests quite well for a very long time, NATO prominent among them. And so when I heard that today, again, I think for those who are inclined to worry about Trump, his extreme nationalism raised those worries, it didn't appease them more or reduce them.

SIEGEL: But, David, nationalism is - it's a big flavor of the year, not just in the U.S.

DIONNE: You're right about that.

BROOKS: Yeah, welcome to the 21st century. I mean, it's Vladimir Putin, it's Marine Le Pen, it's UKIP party in the U.K., this is a global movement. And I think the Trump people, especially Steve Bannon, are extremely conscious that this is like Marxism in 1905. They see this as the rising movement for our century and defeating what had been the globalist agenda of the 20th century, and who knows, they may be right. I hope they're not. The one final thing I just want to say about Trump is it's easy to say, oh, he's a little like Andrew Jackson, or he's an outsider like Jimmy Carter. One of the takeaways from today is he's like nobody. We've never had a president remotely like him.

DIONNE: Amen to that.

SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, David Brooks of The New York Times, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOFI TUKKER SONG, "MATADORA")

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