Joe Biden’s inauguration last week was the most heavily guarded in memory: Washington’s entire National Mall was fenced off; numerous military checkpoints were set up; and 25,000 National Guard troops were deployed to prevent the public from entering the city center.
An American scholar reportedly said that Biden was inaugurated “in a military camp that’s indistinguishable from the Green Zone.” He was referring to the fortress-like area of central Baghdad set up after the Iraq War. But Washington was no Green Zone of 2003-2004. The real Green Zone was surrounded by thousands of huge concrete walls. The barricaded city of Washington was almost a paradise compared to the 2004 standard in Iraq.
Having said that, this year’s Inauguration Day was unprecedented in many ways. It is, however, neither because the outgoing president would not join the inauguration ceremony, nor because the new president did not see him off after the inauguration ceremony. Rather, the speeches the two presidents made were most intriguing.
Trump brushes off staff
Even in the morning of Jan. 20, Donald Trump never failed to campaign. He delivered a farewell speech to his supporters before leaving Joint Base Andrews for Florida. Most of his able advisers and staffers might have either been fired already or left the government after the Capitol storming incident on Jan. 6.
Trump referred little to his staff and merely said to the supporters that “the things that we’ve done have been just incredible and I couldn’t have done it without you. So just a goodbye. We love you. We will be back in some form.” His remarks bring to mind President Richard Nixon’s speech to his staff who assembled in the White House for a farewell to their boss on Aug. 9, 1974, the day of his resignation. Although Nixon’s speech was as impromptu as Trump’s, the former far excels the latter.
The totally broken Nixon told several dozens of his advisors and staffers, “We’ll see you again, I want to say for each and every one of you, not only will we always remember you, not only will we always be grateful to you but always you will be in our hearts and you will be in our prayers.” Nixon really cared about his staff.
Trump cares about Trump
Trump never failed to praise himself. He said in his farewell speech, “What we’ve done has been amazing by any standard. We rebuilt the United States military. We created a new force called Space Force. We took care of the vets. We also got the largest tax cut. And job numbers have been absolutely incredible.”
Even in his final speech after being impeached in the House of Representatives for the second time, Trump was still campaigning as if he were running for the 2024 presidential election. Nixon, by contrast, emphasized that he was just doing politics but never tried to seek personal gain from politics.
Nixon said the following: “No man or no woman came into this Administration and left it with more of this world’s goods than when he came in. No man or no woman ever profited at the public expense or the public till. That tells something about you. Mistakes, yes. But for personal gain, never. You did what you believed in. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong.”
America first: Trump vs. Nixon
For more than four years, Trump continued with his infamous “America First” slogan, which was widely considered a concept in support of international isolation of the United States.
Nixon, by contrast, used the concept in a different, more gracious way. In the early evening of Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon announced his resignation as U.S. president. His speech was televised live throughout the United States. “I have never been a quitter,” Nixon said, “To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time president and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.”
At the time, Nixon seemed like a bad guy. In retrospect, however, Nixon who decided to resign sounded more presidential. In contrast, Trump has never conducted himself like a president for the past four years, and yet he did not resign.
Biden speech was decent but empty
On his Inauguration Day, Trump criticized the establishment in Washington that “For too long a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” and “Today will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” His challenge, however, is still genuine and real.
As compared to Trump’s, Biden’s inaugural address, while using the beautiful word “democracy” 11 times in the speech, sounded empty. Words are only words. What President Biden must do is not to indirectly denounce Trump personally but to try to answer the challenge of the still active Trump movement.
Although Trump degraded America’s global respect and leadership, we should also remember that it was this American democracy that elected that unpresidential businessman as president in the first place. Democracy should not just be praised but also work effectively.
Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Japanese government.
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