When Trump Says ‘America First,’ It’s About the America of the Elites

January 20, 2017

Norman Solomon joins TRNN's live inauguration coverage to discuss the absence of references to the U.S. constitution and climate change in Trump's inaugural speech

Norman Solomon joins TRNN's live inauguration coverage to discuss the absence of references to the U.S. constitution and climate change in Trump's inaugural speech



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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: We’re sitting here with Paul Jay. Paul, obviously the protest, a factor in today’s inaugural celebration, but also starting from last night, I’m a little surprised to see D.C. police actually responding in this way. I mean, I’ve attended many, probably dozens of protests in Washington, D.C. and I’ve never seen them use tear gas.

I’ve seen them mace and pepper spray protestors before, but it’s really disturbing to see Washington police responding in this way today, to the anti-Trump protestors, that people are on the streets demonstrating.

PAUL JAY: Well, I think Trump set the tone for this at the Republican Convention. He’s the law and order President, and he made sure that that was the message of the convention, that was the message of his campaign. And I think this is going to be an indication of what policing’s going to be like throughout the country. It’s not like a qualitative difference, but there’s a significant quantitative difference, a difference in scale.

For example, the Department of Justice — the word everyone uses, and it’s a good word — did this scathing critique of the Baltimore Police Department in the last few days, just before the inauguration. They did one on the Chicago Police Department; you’re not going to see scathing of police departments under the Trump administration.

I’ve said before on The Real News, and I think it’s important to get at, why does the DOJ do this? ‘Cause it’s in the interests, systemic interest, of the elites, not to have police go too far. Too many killings, too much abuse tends to radicalize people, it tends to spur opposition. It discredits the whole system. They want most people to believe that the judicial system is fair.

I mean, most people know it’s not, but they don’t want it to, kind of, be completely discredited. So, the DOJ steps in when police departments go, in certain cities, just go way too far and they rein it back a little. Well, I think it’s better for people if it gets reined back a little. I think people will still get organized; they can still mount their opposition. But this is going to be open house… that’s not the word for it — this is going to be unmitigated.

You are not going to get critiqued from the DOJ, so it’s a message to police departments. Tonight what’s happening in D.C. is similar. Like, we’re going to use force and don’t think we won’t.

KIM BROWN: Well, there’s that, and also the fact that Donald Trump, as you said, has already set this tone early on, especially during the Republican primary. I can recall during one of the primary debates, where the moderator informed Donald Trump that stop-and-frisk had indeed been ruled illegal in New York City.

And he disputed this, so, which is stunning. Because, I mean, this a court case that has been adjudicated, ruled upon, this is precedent in New York. And for him to just flat-out deny the facts, which is, he’s done across a variety of issues, but especially when it comes to police. It’s almost like, if there is anything negative against the police, be it in the courts, or be it the court of public opinion, Donald Trump is going to stand with the police one hundred percent.

And he has made this flagrantly clear, and he touted his endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police, a national organization. Also, The Border Agents of America, which was, I believe, the first time that the agency that does the… I’m not sure if it was ICE, but border agents came out and endorsed a presidential candidate, which is a first for them.

So, this is their guy, this is who they’re going to stand behind, and he is also going to reciprocate.

PAUL JAY: I think there was a word today, and I haven’t had a chance to actually read the transcript, but I just watched the speech –- but, there was one word that I thought, I think was missing from the entire speech. If he mentioned it, at least he didn’t go on and on and on about it, which Republicans usually do. And that word is the Constitution.

Usually, now we know the Constitution is created mostly to defend private property, it was mostly a document that was to ensure that you never had a real challenge to who owns stuff, and how it’s owned, and it’s privately owned, and it’s certainly facilitates the billionaires. On the other hand, there are things that the Constitution was born out of the American Revolution.

There are things in it that, and over time, that do defend individual rights. And when, for example, the Department of Justice did this report on the Baltimore Police Department, one of the things they said was, “The police in Baltimore violate people’s Constitutional rights every day.” And so, that still counts for something, and he talks about all of his priorities, he doesn’t even mention that. I think it’s kind of clear where policing is going to go under the Trump administration.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we’re being joined right now with Norman Solomon, the co-founder of rootsaction.org. Norman, are you with us?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Hi. I am.

KIM BROWN: All right, well, we appreciate you being here. Did you have a chance to see the inaugural speech of now President Donald Trump?

NORMAN SOLOMON: I did.

KIM BROWN: And what are your initial thoughts and takeaways about the substance of what he had to say?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, really, substance is almost an oxymoron. I mean, there was a speech, there were words spoken, it was sort of an extended retrospective and forward-looking campaign speech, I think. And you know, the standard superficiality of such addresses — I think, was heightened by just sort of, skittering along the surface — but I do think that the America First theme was really re-doubled in this inaugural address.

It certainly was explicit, and implicit, in Trump’s entire campaign. And like a broken clock, he is occasionally correct. I certainly think his opposition to these trade deals, like NAFTA, and you know, the current TPP push that we had last year, you know, is a sign that the America First theme has a silver lining or two, likewise his indirect, or somewhat direct, reference to not seeking regime change. That was sort of a thread in one part of his speech today.

But that silver lining, I think, is overwhelmed by just these huge clouds that are going to bring so much negativity to the world, you know, one part in his speech today, he said people in the world should know that we’re going to make the world, as America, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s very ominous. Because the extent of jingoism that was replete in his speech, I think, should trouble us. Especially when it’s combined with the military-industrial complex, that he seems very much in tune with.

Although, just to sort of sum up, another silver lining, is he, in his speech, made clear — although I don’t think he used the phrase — that he’s against a foreign policy of regime change. Which will be a change from the last, oh, 16 years. Still and all, it’s in the context of a wider militarism, that’s quite dangerous.

PAUL JAY: I think this is — this is Paul Jay here, Norman — I think there’s a few things with America First. First of all, it suggests that President Obama, and all the presidents before him and the trade policy wasn’t America first. ‘Cause you have to define who’s America?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Right.

PAUL JAY: There is no one America, America First, but who’s America? It’s clear, whether it’s President Trump, or President Obama, and all the other leadership of the two parties, that when they think of America, they mean the elites of America. That is their America. And it starts with the America of the billionaires and then can maybe extend into 10 or 15% of the rest of the population. But it’s fundamentally the America of people who own stuff. And the more you own, the more it’s your America. And the dispossessed, that’s not their America.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Paul, I’d say it’s the usual dual discourse where, when he talks about America rhetorically, explicitly in a speech, it’s everybody. Well, that’s standard operating procedure for inaugural speeches, and presidential speeches in general. But as you’re saying, the America that he really means, and that he represents, is the wealthy elites and Wall Street and the bankers and the corporations.

PAUL JAY: And the trade agreements that have been put in place, they were America First. It was in American corporation’s interests to offshore these jobs to cheap labor markets. It’s in America’s corporate interest to use global labor markets, to pressure American workers to lower their wages, to have stagnant wages. It was an American First policy. He’s just–

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, Paul… It does get to your point, which America are we talking about?

PAUL JAY: Yeah, these trade policies were never done to be good for Mexico. The trade policies aren’t good for, you know, any of the free trade countries, even Canada suffered to a large extent. America always negotiates to get as much out of these agreements as they possibly can.

KIM BROWN: Well, and you can’t be lost to the fact that Donald Trump himself has personally benefited from these trade agreements. I mean, it’s pretty rich, that in his speech, he spoke about how politicians watched as the jobs evaporated and the factories shuttered and closed their doors and the jobs went overseas, when Donald Trump himself and his daughter, Ivanka — their clothing line — their product lines, are made overseas.

But the problem is, that people who support Donald Trump, the billionaires and the lower class as well, who have been rallying around him, they don’t seem to mind these hypocrisies. And that is what is going to be very difficult for, not him to overcome, but people who oppose him, to overcome. This idea that because Donald Trump is a successful businessman, that he must know what he’s doing, that somehow the way that he has accumulated his wealth has been in a positive way, not only for the country, but for his workers. And yet story after story is coming out, even recently, about how Donald Trump continuously has stiffed workers.

There was a contractor in Washington, D.C. who worked on the Trump Hotel, who says that Donald Trump owes him millions of dollars. There’s a story floating around, as of yesterday, of a group of actors who were hired to fill seats at a Trump event, saying they have not been paid. So, his populace message about having concern for the average American worker doesn’t even play out in his own businesses. But the problem is, it doesn’t seem to matter.

PAUL JAY: Well, I can understand how something like he gets his T-shirts made outside the United States. I can understand people cutting him slack ’cause his argument on that, including on the taxation, like why doesn’t he pay more tax, is ’cause the policy allows it. So, as a businessman, he’ll do what it takes to make as much money. He’s saying, you know, it’s not a morality play for him, he’s saying, in a sense, he’s saying.

KIM BROWN: It never is.

PAUL JAY: No, but that’s why people can cut him slack on that. But what I’m saying, at the policy level, he can’t do what he wants to do, unless he wants to completely abandon everything he believes in, which is the core of what he believes in, is maximizing profits. And somehow billionaires, who maximize profit, are going to know how to make America great again. But you can’t have higher wages and do that.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Right. What I think you’re both alluding to, and getting great examples of the yawning, huge, Orwellian gap between the words, and what is often heard by the constituencies of Donald Trump in this case, and the reality, and when the gap is so enormous, it does amount to a compendium, a cascading series of big lies. And when the lies are big enough, as we know historically, they’re often easier to sell to people. In contrast to when they’re a bunch of smaller lies.

PAUL JAY: The other word that was missing, and this one I know is missing, for sure, I said Constitution was missing, I’m pretty sure. But more importantly what was missing is the issue of climate change and the environment. Not a single word.

Now, we know some of the people around him are now shifting the message a little bit in these hearings. “Oh yes, we understand there may be climate change. Yes, maybe human activity may have something to do with it.” But not a word in the speech, and if really, he wants to unite the world against radical Islamic terrorism, the far, far, far, greater threat is climate change. And the fact that he and his team do not even consider this something on their agenda, is the most threatening thing about this presidency.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, that… absolutely–

KIM BROW: I mean, I completely agree with that, and unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be a science guy. He doesn’t seem to be a person who was grounded in the facts, whether it be science, mathematics, geography, it doesn’t really matter, like, that’s not his bag. And when it comes to climate change, I mean, the Republicans as a whole, aren’t embracing of this issue.

They barely want to acknowledge it’s happening, and certainly not putting forth any cogent plans to try to stop it. And the fact that Donald Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, of all people, the Attorney General from Oklahoma, to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Oklahoma has experienced hundreds, now, probably close to thousands of earthquakes, as a result of fracking. This is manmade activity that is causing the earth to shift, and it’s actually causing people personal property damage.

So, it’s having an economic impact of the people, the residents of Oklahoma, but there doesn’t seem to be any coherent effort on, either the effort of Pruitt as Attorney General, or even the Oklahoma governor out there, Mary Fallin, to put an end to this practice. Or even try to mitigate what is happening out there.

So, this stuff is happening in front of, literally, everyone’s faces. But Republicans faces as well, and their inability, or reluctance, or just refusal to admit what’s happening, where climate change is going to have devastating impacts for us all. And, unfortunately, what Barack Obama was able to try to do, signing onto the Paris Agreement, could tragically be quickly undone.

And, you know, being here several months now, Paul, at The Real News, we’ve interviewed so many climate scientists and so many people are saying that, “Even the limits, or the outline set forth in the Paris Agreement about what needs to be done to try to stem this temperature rise globally of about two degrees, is not going to be enough to stop what is going to happen with the planet.” And Trump is not going to be the one to save us.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so crucial what you’re saying. And what we’ve seen in the last few weeks even is, and I think of the word, “glacial” which has an unfortunate connotation in the context of warming, but the metaphor of glacial, the change between outright climate denial, which I think even the most reactionary corporate know-nothings are realizing, is becoming a bit untenable. Is shifting, as we heard in the last couple of days from Rick Perry, the nominee to the Secretary of Energy, it’s shifting to, “Oh well, there might be some human caused climate change, but it’s… the data are really uncertain, and besides, we don’t know that there’s really anything we can do about it.”

And this is a sort of a fallback position that is also quite dangerous and pernicious, because it could hang on for years, or decades, as catastrophe envelopes the entire planet. So, this urgency that you’re talking about, is right in front of us and the people who now are running the U.S. government are in total, either denial, or arrogant, “We don’t care because we’re just about making maximum profits for the wealthy and corporations.”

PAUL JAY: I think it’s important also to point out that the Obama administration, while it made some small steps, did not deal with anywhere near the crisis, in terms of the urgency. A study came out a couple of months ago, Sir Robert Watson, who was at one point Chair of the IPCC, the U.N. Climate Committee, he said, if every country actually lived up to their pledge at the Paris Agreement, the world would still have hit two degrees by 2050, like 34 years away. This is like tomorrow, in these kinds of terms.

So, the lack of urgency on the Obama administration’s part, this was never prioritized. In the first two years when President Obama and the Democratic Party controlled both houses, where was the great launch of climate legislation? When he ran he talked about a sustainable green economy, where was that, once the Democratic Party was actually elected?

So, in some ways, this lack of bringing this to the top of the political agenda by the Democratic Party, also allowed the media, who I don’t think needed a lot of persuasion, to completely drop the issue. There’s one study by Media Matters that says that the main television networks did a total of a 149 minutes of coverage on climate change in the year 2015: 13 minutes, ABC, that includes Fox, whose, most of their climate change coverage was actually discrediting the fact that there was human-cause climate change. CNN, which ran a little bit of climate change coverage, but five to one had more commercials, paid advertising, by the fossil fuel industry, than they did climate change information.

Now, if the Democratic Party, and President Obama, had made this front and center of their agenda, and used the presidential bully pulpit and made climate change the passionate issue of our time, because it is, the media actually would have had to cover it. But they actually helped create the conditions why a climate denier can actually be elected president.

KIM BROWN: Now, Norman, maybe you can help us out here, ’cause I remember vaguely during President Obama’s first term, he did have an initiative, a commitment to creating green jobs and was the company called Solyndra? Do I have that right? Was it a California–

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yes, in California.

KIM BROWN: …based solar power company that the president, what, allowed grants to be given? Help me out with the details ’cause my memory is a little–

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, as I’m remembering, it just went down the drain; a lot of federal money and the right wing went nuts on it. They loved it, because it seemed to simultaneously discredit the real potential for appropriate technology that would not be based on fossil fuels, to deal with energy needs. And it was also a way to bash Obama, some kind of you know, corporate feather-bedder, just siphoning tax dollars into his crony pockets. And I think, you know, that goes to sort of a deeper point, which really, I think, resonates with what happened in the last year.

Even when the intention was arguably good, we had Hillary Clinton for instance, who was so unable to be convincing, that she was actually sincere. And that there actually was something about substance that was principle because so much of it was entangled with Wall Street, and her habitual way, and the elites of the Democratic Party nationally, habitual way to just cut deals with very, very wealthy people. And I think it has undermined the capacity of the leadership of the last four and eight years, to make a convincing case, you know?

Whether it’s about fighting climate change and really developing solar power and wind and so forth, because there has been so much indication that a phoniness prevailed. That the talk about it — and we heard that today from Donald Trump — he was exploiting that, while ironically replicating himself, you know. It’s not about people enriching themselves in Washington; it’s about the people.

Well, there has been a lot of enriching going on in Washington, you know, in the last eight years, the last sixteen years, that’s a truth that Trump addressed today. But of course the, again, Orwellian reality is that, he’s coming in like gangbusters to do that for almost his entire cabinet, let alone himself, which is the most flagrant in U.S. history, in terms of a president.

KIM BROWN: But that’s the irony though, of Trump, in the sense that, I mean, he told everybody, from the very beginning, “I donate to both Republicans and Democrats. Why? Because it’s in my business interests to do so.” So, he admitted to being part of the corrupt nature of politics from the very beginning, and people seemed to not be turned off by that, which is incredible. I don’t know if it speaks more to Donald Trump as a cult of personality, or the collective, God forgive me, ignorance of my countryman here in the United States. So–

NORMAN SOLOMON: Yeah.

KIM BROWN: …I mean, this is all… it’s a bit surreal here, Norman, but my question to you is, so what do democrats, liberals, and progressives, do, because there doesn’t seem to be as if there is going to be a legitimate check of power on Donald Trump? He has a red Supreme Court; he has overwhelmingly Republican control of Congress. As you said, his cabinet is the most — wealthiest in the history of the country. So, there doesn’t seem to be anybody that can stop him. Do the Democrats have any political will to try to impeach Donald Trump, or to try to stymie him in any way?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I think, one sort of almost mechanistic possibility, and it remains to be seen how well it will be used, is the filibuster in the Senate. Because, as a practical matter, unless Democrats stand firm and filibuster, whether it’s Supreme Court or endless other issues, we’re in deep trouble. I think that grassroots organizing is going to have to greatly accelerate, because Democrats in Congress will not be strong unless we’re forcing them, we’re threatening them to primary them, if they’re not strong around the country.

And also, some Republicans who aren’t totally depraved, might be susceptible to some pressure if we’re really strategic about congressional districts and states and senators who are coming up in 2018. So, I think that’s, you know, part of the answer. I think conceptually, the historic, or one of the main historic failures of the last eight years of National Democratic Party leadership, beginning in the oval office, is that progressive populism was closed off. Because, as epitomized by Hillary Clinton’s horrible retort to make America great again, when she said, “America’s already great,” the Democratic Party nationally has stood for the status quo. Which is the antithesis of populism.

And so, when you block off, through the power of the Democratic Party from the top, an avenue for populism, you only leave people another avenue for populism, which is the Donald Trump type, the racism, the xenophobia and so forth. So, I think it has to be explicit. And, of course, Bernie’s campaign for president, which is really our campaign for president, working people, wannabe working people, progressives, Bernie was so excellent at pointing that out, all the time, every day.

But still and all, we’re seeing the National Democratic Party, the DNC, still in the grip of the Clinton wing, saying, “We don’t need progressive populism.” And they’re empowering. And so I think, in answer to your question, a part of the answer is that we’ve got to have a much stronger push to say, “The Democratic Party can and must represent progressive populism. We are opposed to the status quo. We are not going to get ourselves again in a position of defending all the inequities and injustices that are part and parcel of so many people’s experiences in this country.”

One more thing I’d like to add, in the next hour or so, a national campaign is going to launch for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. It’s being co-sponsored by the organization that I’m part of, rootsaction.org, and the organization that is led by John Bonifaz, it’s called Free Speech for People. And if folks want to get engaged in the impeachment drive, impeachment of Donald Trump, you can go in the next hour or so, you’ll find a link at the top of rootsaction.org.

And I want to stress that the grounds for this impeachment campaign are grounded in the Constitution of the United States, which has emolument clauses for foreign financial entanglements of the president, which are forbidden, domestic conflict of interest entanglements for the president, which are forbidden.

And also the third point is, that it’s very clear that Donald Trump, now as President, is instantly in violation. Not only of those two clauses of the constitution, but also the STOCK Act, which essentially forbids, as federal law, the equivalent of insider trading of the president and government officials.

So, this is something to watch. I don’t think it’s a silver bullet. It’s not going to solve everything, but this is one way to pressurize the corporate takeover of the White House that is now in place.

PAUL JAY: Can I just say be careful what you wish for? Why on Earth would you go and go after Trump, when you’re going to wind up with a President Pence? Pence is– (over talking) — hang on a sec. Pence is going to be close to President anyway. He’s probably more dangerous than Trump. Pence is a, not only is he a total ally, and perhaps minion of the Koch brothers, in terms of foreign policy at least, on the face of it stated, who knows what Trump really believes in, but Pence is a total militarist. He’s on the same page as Dick Cheney as I said earlier; he’s called Cheney his model Vice President. To make the impeachment of Trump, I don’t understand it at all.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, let me address that, Paul. There’s a thing called the Constitution of the United States, and a principle of democracy is that nobody is above the law. Once we start cherry picking and choosing and saying, “Well, we’ve got a president, who from day one is flagrantly directly violating the Constitution of the United States. But it doesn’t matter because we don’t like the Vice President.” I think that’s highly problematic.

PAUL JAY: Well, how about… then why not– (over-talking) — Well, you should have called for the impeachment of President Obama then.

NORMAN SOLOMON: If I could finish this point… and some people did. The fact is that if we have a successful, or even a strong impeachment drive, that puts on notice whether Trump remains or whether there’s somebody else that takes his place. That people are not going to tolerate violation of the Constitution, that nobody is above the law. Now you may think that tactically we should sweep this aside and say, “No it’s okay. We want to have a president who violates the Constitution. And we’ll just let them do it.” I don’t think that’s going to fly.

KIM BROWN: Norman, my real question to you is, it’s admirable that RootsAction is undertaking this endeavor, however, do you have a voice in Congress who is willing to allege high crimes and misdemeanors against this President? I mean, Bernie Sanders started a revolution, literally and figuratively, over this past campaign cycle, is Bernie the guy to present charges of impeachment against Donald Trump in the Senate?

NORMAN SOLOMON: First of all, I have to start in the House, but I don’t think Bernie’s particularly the guy. I believe, in this context, there’s so many — when the people lead, leaders might be forced to follow. And I know that organizations are in touch with members of Congress that are quite interested.

But we know that change comes from the bottom. And whether on this issue, or climate, or many others, it’s not going to come from the top. It has to come from the people, from the grassroots.

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