Ok, it happened. Donald Trump is officially the 45th president of the United States. He is now the leader of the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever known – the birthplace of modern democracy.
As is traditional, President Trump gave an inaugural address to outline his vision for his presidency. Trump’s was much shorter than most in recent history, but it was just as telling.
This may have been an effective speech, but I’m honestly not sure. The speech was not for me. There were some good lines in there, such as “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” That is something I can get behind. I also liked the part where Obama became a private citizen and Hillary never became president. That was easily my favorite part.
The rest of the speech? Not so much.
Trump’s inaugural address was largely about a break with conservatism. For decades, conservatives have argued for a smaller government that does not interfere in the lives of American citizens. We have argued for a philosophy centered on the primacy of the individual and a recognition that big programs designed to help often have unintended consequences. We have championed the free market, individual liberty, and global leadership. Trump’s inaugural address was not a conservative speech, it was a populist speech.
Populism is disguised liberalism with a twist. Both rely on an increasingly powerful government to impose its ideals on the country. Both seek to use the government to remake society. Both see it as the government’s responsibility to take sides in a war between the haves and have-nots. Trump will try to impose a different vision on the country than Democrats would have, but he will use the same means. The biggest difference between liberalism and populism is that liberalism is more honest.
Populism makes pretensions towards the democratic ideal of a government of, by, and for the people, but its answers are always more and bigger government that limits individual liberty. In order to help the people, populists say, the government needs more power to make things right. Sound familiar? It is the same argument liberals make, except liberals don’t pretend that the end result of government acquiring more and more power will be to give it back to the people.
Trump began his speech by announcing “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.” He then went on to say the government will interfere in your ability to buy what you want to buy, will have a say in where companies can conduct their business, and demanded a more energetic government to spend more tax payer dollars. Much of Trump’s economic message could have been delivered by Bernie Sanders.
Trump’s speech was a complete rejection of conservatism. He did not speak of liberty, individualism, or respect for the Constitution. He spoke of accumulating more power in the hands of the government and using it to dictate how Americans should act.
Conservatives will have to look outside of the Oval Office for support.