President Donald Trump delivered his inaugural address in a combative tone with words replete with denunciation for existing political institutions. Inaugural addresses have typically preached national reconciliation at the same time that they set up the new president’s vision of the future. Trump’s short speech of fewer than fifteen minutes instead took aim at the United States government, telling his supporters that only “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
President Trump said that the Washington elites had spent a fortune to “defend other countries’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” and that foreign nations “ravaged” the American border. Trump told the crowd on the Capitol lawn that in immigration, as in trade and defense, he would insist that “from this day forward, it’s only going to be America First.” Trump has been criticized before for using the slogan “America First,” first used widely in the 1930s and early 1940s by those opposed to America confronting Hitler’s rampant Nazi regime in Germany. The slogan was later adopted by anti-immigrant activists who demanded that employers hire Americans over immigrants.
Trump followed up his call for “America First,” with the warning that “we will follow two rules: Buy American and Hire American.” Calling for employers to only “hire American” reads like an encouragement for employers not to hire immigrants. This is a dangerous demand, considering the millions of Lawful Permanent Residents and millions more with work visas currently living in the United States. While equal employment law generally allows no discrimination against immigrants with work permits in hiring, the president seems to be casting immigrants as a group that will have to give way to American citizens in the job hunt.
The new president struck a distinctly nationalist tone during his speech. He abandoned the role of leader of the democratic world that all presidents have adopted since the end of World War II, and instead depicted himself as the president of “Little America,” a country whose interests end at its border. Trump’s America is not enriched by diversity, international trade, and cultural exchange. Rather it is besieged by enemies, overtaken by competitors, and invaded by aliens.
We must steel ourselves to battle this xenophobic vision of a country where those outside our walls are only a source of contamination and decline.