Trump: New sheriff in town
Nearly 1 million people, including thousands of protesters, are expected in central Washington on Friday (20 January) to watch the pageantry of Donald Trump becoming the 45th president of the US.
The centrepiece of the events - Trump’s speech, at 11.30AM local time (5.30PM Brussels time), after he is sworn in in front of the Capitol Hill building with his hand on a bible - will also be watched in Europe for clues as to which of the things he promised in his campaign are likely to become policy.
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On the domestic front, he promised an economic revival, especially in the manufacturing and energy industries, drastic action against illegal immigrants, tax reform, a repeal of free healthcare, and curbs on federal bureaucracy.
On foreign affairs, he has promised to challenge China’s military expansion, threatened to no longer protect Nato allies, and mocked the EU as a German “vehicle” that will shortly fall apart.
He has indicated he might end sanctions on Russia in return for cooperation in the fight against Islamist terrorism and on nuclear non-proliferation, despite having admitted that Russian hackers interfered in the US election.
He has also indicated that he might abandon the two-state solution on Israel and Palestine, the Paris accord on climate change, and the EU free-trade treaty.
According to Sean Spicer, the new White House press chief, speaking on Thursday, the inauguration speech might leave Trump’s European audience little the wiser, however.
The speech is expected to be short - just 20 minutes - and to make “philosophical” points on issues such as “what it means to be an American, the challenges that we face as members of the middle class … the proper role of government, the role of citizens”, Spicer said.
“It’s going to be a very personal and sincere statement about his vision for the country,” he said.
It is also likely to sound a conciliatory tone toward federal institutions and to the Democratic party and voters, both of which he demonised on the campaign trail.
The lack of content was on show on Thursday when Trump addressed a crowd next to the Lincoln Memorial in the Washington Mall.
He led people in chants of “Make America great again!”, pledged to create jobs, and to rebuild the US military.
“I’m just the messenger ... It’s a movement like we’ve never seen anywhere in the world”, he said. “We are going to do things that haven’t been done in our country for many, many decades”, he said.
His questionable taste was also on show.
Standing close to the spot where Martin Luther King, a black rights activist, made his “I have a dream” speech in 1963, Trump, whose campaign teamed up with hard-right and white supremacist groups, told the largely white crowd: “They forgot about a lot of us … Well, you’re not forgotten any more”.
His Thursday-night party was boycotted by several A-list celebrities whom Trump had tried to invite.
Around 60 Democratic congressmen also plan to boycott Friday’s inauguration in protest at Trump’s racist, sexist, and divisive campaign rhetoric.
Trump, a 70-year old real estate billionaire and reality TV star, will enter the White House as the least popular president in US history, with an approval rating of just 40 percent, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll this week.
The preparations, involving 28,000 security personnel and costing $200 million, have seen parts of the capital put on lockdown and steel barriers erected on main streets in order to help control protesters.
Around 30 groups have obtained permits to hold rallies on Friday and Saturday.
The largest of them, the Women’s March on Washington, is expected to attract 200,000 people on Saturday, but not all the protests are to be political in nature - another group, of pro-marijuana activists, plans to hand out 4,200 free joints to passers by on Friday.
When the party’s over, EU states, and America’s other international partners, will have to find a new modus vivendi with Trump’s administration.
Some EU diplomats believe that he will govern more soberly than he campaigned in what would amount to business as usual.
Some EU politicians have also said that Europe should use the same “hardball” tactics with Trump that Trump has used in his political and business career in order to win his respect.
Speaking to EUobserver in the run-up to Friday, Andras Simonyi, a former Hungarian diplomat and a scholar of transatlantic relations at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, said Europe would be wrong to think that president Trump will be any milder than candidate Trump.
He added that the best way to win Trump’s respect would be for EU states to spend more on their militaries and to stand on their own two feet in terms of security.
“Europe still does not get it: There’s a new sheriff in town”, he said.