HERE TO STAY
The Birther, The Shady Preacher, and President Donald Trump
To those hoping the office of the president would change Donald J. Trump, it’s time to pack those hopes away for at least four years.
At his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump made it clear: He’s going to govern the way he campaigned: combative, divisive and bare-knuckled.
There was no direct appeal to those who didn’t vote for him; but plenty of sneering at the “establishment” which opposed his election.
Although he swore his presidential oath on the Lincoln Bible, Trump’s subsequent speech hardly sounded Lincoln-esque. He spoke darkly of “American carnage” —a plague he promised to soon alleviate. Trump reportedly reviewed President Reagan’s address while crafting his speech, but there was hardly a glimmer of the optimism much less a “shining city on a hill.”
For too many Americans, Trump said, the country was a reality in which poverty defines inner cities, manufacturing is dead, education is “flush with cash, but leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge,” and features “crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives.”
“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First,” Trump declared during his inaugural address.
Even this line showed the deep divisions present with the Republican Party.
“Part of it was a base speech, keeping his themes consistent, thanking the people who got him here,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told The Daily Beast. “America First, as described—I don’t know what it means. We will see… if ‘America First’ is 1930s American isolationism, the world is going to continue to deteriorate.”
The “people who got him here” were also front and center—from donors to fringe supporters.
Paula White, a bombastic and controversial televangelist, opened the ceremony in prayer.
“Now bind and heal our wounds and divisions, and join our nation to your purpose,” she said.
“Let these United States of America be that beacon of hope to all people and nations under your dominion, a true hope for humankind.”
White preaches what’s called the Prosperity Gospel, which teaches that material wealth is a sign of God’s favor and that the way to get that wealth is by giving money to pastors who preach about it.
White drew scrutiny from the Senate—along with other deep-pocketed televangelists—for the way she raises significant sums of money through her TV ministry. The inquiry didn’t ultimately find any evidence of wrongdoing, but generated scathing criticism for her.
Also present was Rebekah Mercer, now one of the most powerful non-elected figures on the right. The reclusive daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer sported large dark glasses and entered on an upper dais near where Senators were seated.
She’s a close, long-time associate of Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, and a top donor to Trump and the groups who supported his campaign.
Joseph Farah, editor-in-chief of the right-wing conspiracy website WorldNetDaily, was also in attendance at the inauguration, sitting a prime spot just behind the first section of seats.
Farah’s website played a significant role in questioning the legitimacy of President Obama, and peddled so-called “birther” claims against the now-former president. He bragged that “high level” people in the Trump administration helped him score the tickets for him and his wife, but declined to reveal the names of his contacts.
Farah brushed aside Donald Trump’s repudiation of his birther claims last year during the presidential campaign, saying the issue isn’t worth litigating anymore because Obama was on his way out. But he suggested, still, that there were questions about whether Obama’s birth certificate was in fact real. Farah rejected the “birther” label, saying instead that his website’s claims about Obama amounted simply to questioning his “eligibility” to be president.
Farah said this was the first inauguration in his lifetime for which he feels genuinely happy.
But while Trump’s team will bring an entirely different set of personalities to power in Washington, on Friday it was all about tradition. After the inaugural address, President Trump escorted President Obama to the east side of the Capitol, where Obama flew off in a helicopter as Trump signed his first executive orders as president.
Trump then passed under the elegant Capitol rotunda to participate in his first meal as president, with an honor guard standing by as familiar allies entered Statuary Hall for a traditional post-inauguration lunch: Rudy Giuliani strolled in, billionaire Sheldon Adelson scooted by in wheelchair, and members of his cabinet walked briskly in.
The transfer of power had been completed. And Republicans, for their part, welcome the change.
“He was very blunt about where we have been, and what’s going to change,” Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe told The Daily Beast.
Nor did Trump sound chastened by his low approval ratings, among the lowest for incoming presidents in modern times.
“This isn’t about approval ratings,” said Republican Sen. John Barrasso. “This is about getting the job done… It was an excellent speech, talks about making America great again… talks about people pulling in the same direction. I thought it was a very inclusive speech.”
As the lunch began, Reince Priebus, the new White House chief of staff walked by. Was he ready to assume his formidable role as the top aide to the world’s most powerful man?
Priebus gave a thumbs up.
“All the way,” he said.
Contributing: Andrew Desiderio