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Naomi Klein, Alicia Garza, Ralph Nader & Others Respond to Trump’s “America First” Inaugural Address

StoryJanuary 23, 2017
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Donald Trump’s inaugural address on Friday as the 45th president of the United States prompted strong reaction from our roundtable of guests during an extended Democracy Now! broadcast. We play an excerpt from Trump’s speech and feature highlights of responses from consumer advocate Ralph Nader; author Naomi Klein; professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of “From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation”; investigative reporter Allan Nairn and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, where there also was a major march, the historic protests worldwide, in over 600 cities, towns and hamlets, came one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. … We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision—on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs—will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. … We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Donald Trump’s inaugural address as the 45th president of the United States. Well, on Friday, Democracy Now! did a special broadcast from Washington, D.C., and featured a roundtable of analysis of Trump’s address. We spoke to consumer advocate Ralph Nader; author Naomi Klein; and professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation; investigative reporter Allan Nairn and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. We began with Ralph Nader.

RALPH NADER: He’s going to do a lot of things at once in the first hundred days, unlike Barack Obama, who figured that he could only handle the Democratic Congress with healthcare. He’s going to try to go on all fronts. And that’s perilous for him, obviously, but it’s also very perilous for the Democratic Party, which now is a minority in the Congress. That means he’s going to get the nominee to the Supreme Court up fast. He’s going to start changing the tax system up fast. He’s going to start rolling back health and safety and other regulations fast by all kinds of executive action and in Congress.

And so, what we’re going to see here is a challenge to the stamina of the citizenry, especially the majority of the people who voted against him, and whether they organize in every congressional district or they just engage in important but short-lived resistance is a real question now. We have to build sustained power in every congressional district to use that huge leverage over Congress—535 people whose names we know—as an opposition to what the Trump administration plans to do.

He is now way in over his neck. He doesn’t know how to run the government. He doesn’t like to work hard. He doesn’t like details. He doesn’t like to read briefing memos. He doesn’t like to be briefed. So we’re going to see a huge delegation of authority to his nominees, to his Cabinet secretaries, etc. And we will see a new media emerge, which is his tweeting media and which is basically his public relations arm to 20, 30 million people that tap into that account.

Finally, I think what we—we’re going to have to do something to get over the yuck factor. The liberals have to get over the yuck factor. They disagree with conservatives back home on certain issues, as we know—reproductive rights, etc., gun control. But there’s a huge left-right worker alliance that can be dealt here, because, as he alluded to, they all bleed the same way, and, as I would expand, they all get ripped off the same way by the healthcare industry, by the utilities, by the employers, by the low wages. That’s the alliance for the future against Donald Trump and his billionaires.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: You know, I have to say, listening to this America—this defiant America firstism, and, you know, picking up on what Ralph said about how this is tapping into the failures and the weaknesses of the Democratic Party, you know, he’s speaking directly to people’s feeling of being disappeared and neglected and so on. And I think until there is a very clear alternative, that will continue to resonate, despite all of the obvious hypocrisies that we’ve been delineating all day.

It does make me think about something else, though. You know, I’ve been involved in the free trade battles for a couple of decades now, you know, taking on—going back to the original free trade agreement with Canada and the NAFTA and the creation of the WTO and all of that. But I was never comfortable with the way in which particularly the U.S. labor movement used America firstism—right?—and did not use enough the language of internationalism—right?—and including employing easy, xenophobic language about the Chinese and opposing these deals on the basis of this easy nationalism. And unfortunately, that, I think, moral failure, that moral failure to stand up for principles of international workers’ rights, interventional environmental standards, instead of just this easy hypernationalism, is now something that Trump can and is picking up. We’re seeing it right now. Some of these messages aren’t that different than the message we heard from unions. I know I’m not going to make some people happy saying that, but it’s too familiar. And we can’t move forward making those same mistakes. It’s wonderful to see the internationalism in the response to Trump, and we’re going to need to be an international movement, because this is not just something that’s happening in the United States, right? This is happening in the midst of austerity programs around the world. It’s—

AMY GOODMAN: And Donald Trump—


AMY GOODMAN: —acknowledged that he was speaking to the world, not just the United States.


NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, one thing I did like in his speech was the “Now arrives the hour of action.” And seeing as he’s appropriated a lot of, you know, pseudo-populist slogans, I say we take that one and apply it to our movements.


KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: There are a couple of things. One is that with Trump, you can see the move from the kind of dog whistle to the foghorn around racism, but I think that he’s also trying to do something interesting, which is to try to include African Americans into this “America first” by talking about how, you know, we’ve got the crime-infested inner cities, but we’re going to save them, and they’re Americans like the rest of them, and we need to include them in our efforts to put down radical Islamic terrorists, in our efforts to build the wall and to keep the Mexicans out. And I think that there is a basic incoherence at the heart of that, which is that the policies that Trump is pursuing domestically will have a disproportionate impact in their harm on African Americans. So, for people who are in disproportionate need of state protections, of a public sector, that the efforts to subvert that, to get rid of those types of regulatory protections, but also those types of social welfare programs, will have a devastating impact on black people in particular. And so, the effort to sort of unite people around this false idea of America first by attacking immigrants, by attacking Muslims, is built on—is built on sand, in some ways, and it’s built on incoherence.

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein?

NAOMI KLEIN: It’s interesting that his chosen model for this was the military, right? I mean, we all—I think he said, you know—


NAOMI KLEIN: —”As the soldiers know, we all bleed the same.” Right? And so, that’s what he’s holding up—right?—as the model of going to war, and, you know, overwhelmingly against Muslim countries, and this sort of heavily armed, united America against all enemies. And I think that that’s the plan. That’s the game plan.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan, to get a comment on that speech—President Trump just gave his 15-minute inaugural address—your thoughts?

ALLAN NAIRN: It’s the most substantive inaugural address I can remember hearing. Usually they’re full of platitudes. This was packed with political program. And it shows how serious this guy is and how serious this movement is. We’re really facing a national emergency now. It’s not a joke. He’s not incompetent. Trump has a team of the most—consisting of the most radical political party in American history, arguably, since 1860, the current Republicans. He has a Cabinet who believe in oligarchy unbound, without limits, a lot of whom—and a lot of the individuals in there look to be very competent at their assigned task of dismantling those aspects of their respective departments that serve the poor, working people as opposed to the rich. And in that speech, which was a collection of the most severe moments from his sub-speeches, you really felt again some of the fascist undertones that ran through his campaign. I mean, this was a real signal. People better organize now, because up to now, in the course of this campaign, you know, American progressives have not done very well. It was remarkable that Sanders got as far as he did, but he didn’t make it over the line, which is all that—in a sense, is all that counts in the end. And Trump could not be stopped.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to ask Alicia, and Allan, too, for their final thoughts on this and just read—someone has compiled a list of words that were used for the first time in a U.S. inaugural address. I’ll just read a few of them: “bleed,” “carnage,” “depletion,” “ripped,” “rusted,” “sad,” “stealing,” “tombstones.” OK, that’s just a random list. The list is much longer of words that have not been used before. And what some of those words indicate is a—or gesture at is a more explicit violence than has ever been—I mean, one could argue that an inaugural address is always about a certain kind of nationalism, whereas—but it’s an implicit kind of violence. This—the words here are—somehow lay bare what American power—Trump would like American power to be. So, your final thoughts on that, Alicia, and then Allan?

ALICIA GARZA: Well, I think the inaugural address made it really clear what America Trump wants to, quote-unquote, “make great again.” But what feels really clear for me is that he does not have a mandate, that the words that we would use—right?—absolutely would be “resistance,” would be “ungovernable,” would be “disrupt,” would be “defiant.” But I think that there’s also very much words that are being used today, like “solidarity” and “love” and “resistance” and “care.” And I’m carrying that into the Women’s March tomorrow, quite frankly, where there will be, at minimum, a quarter of a million people who have traveled from all over the world to show their resistance, but also to show that we—our futures are connected with one another. And that’s what is carrying me through this incredibly sad day. And, you know, I think that what’s important about the list that you’ve generated is that it makes it really clear what their agenda is. They are masters at trying to mask what it is that they actually want to do. And so, we should take this as an indication of the America that they want to see, and use it as our compass to move away from and to orient all of our work around.


ALLAN NAIRN: Well, you know, as they say, every person contains multitudes. Within everyone, there’s this capacity for tremendous nobility and also the capacity to do horrible things, to commit the most atrocious crimes. And Trump has—like other demagogues, has this ability to reach inside, reach inside the soul of many people and pull out the worst. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A given person is not only their own worst instincts. You can reach inside that same person and pull out the best. And what a person does, to a large extent, depends upon the situation that’s presented to them, the conditions they’re living under, the challenges that are put to them. Trump has put a certain set of challenges, particularly to white Americans, and he’s gotten this very ugly response.

But just if some very simple things had been done by the bureaucratic, corporate Democratic Party, and they had presented a more—a constructive agenda that simply responded to people’s needs for work, for salary, we would have had an entirely different outcome in the election, and we wouldn’t now be facing the very real threat on the street of, perhaps, vigilante violence, more racist violence from cops, all these menaces. And God knows what could be unleashed overseas by General Mattis and Trump. This could easily have swung the other way. And it can still swing the other way. You know, when the pendulum goes this far, the energy is gathered, and it’s poised to swing almost as far back in the other direction. And I think that’s where we are politically now. Four years from now, sooner, we could be talking about a revolution of a different sort, in a much more constructive direction. But we have to make that happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Journalist Allan Nairn, Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza, professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Naomi Klein and Ralph Nader. To binge watch our 12 hours of special coverage from the inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington, go to

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