The inauguration on Friday proceeded with all the pomp and ceremony of a coronation, a university commencement, or a mafia funeral.
No American who cares deeply about the future of his country could have watched it without laughing.
All the great and the good were assembled…
The Establishment, the elite, the insiders…the generals, the politicians, the captains of industry and commerce, and representatives of all three branches of government…gathered in solemn ceremony to witness the swearing in of their new chieftain.
We saw the happy new crowd paying its respects to the outgoing gang; we saw the old faces creased with worry and regret. And there were new dresses to be admired…and all the glitterati of the Deep State, including the wives, husbands, and children of the powerful.
So seriously did commentators take the event that we half expected to see a hearse coming down Pennsylvania Avenue.
State funerals can be touching. Moving. And satisfying. The man they honour has done all the damage he can do. (People who humbly and honestly tend to their own affairs do not get state funerals.)
The inauguration of Donald J Trump was very different. It was the beginning, not the end.
In a way, our job would be easier if Hillary had won. The target would be more familiar, more predictable, and stationary. But the new president promises to be vastly more fun. And who knows what will happen?
Of course, that is our job, too…to look ahead…to try to understand what is going on and see, through the glass, darkly, where it may lead.
‘Ride, si sapis,’ said the Roman poet Martial. Laugh…if you are wise. Here at the Diary, that is the best we can do.
The ceremony got off to a bad start, thanks to the inimitable Senator Charles Schumer.
They should issue ‘trigger warnings’ for speeches like that.
An inauguration is supposed to bring the nation together. It is supposed to heal the wounds of a hard-fought campaign and bring out, as Lincoln put it, ‘the better angels of our nature.’ Americans are supposed to unite behind the new guy and give him a chance.
We don’t know what Schumer had in mind. But his choice of illustration caused such fierce diaphragm contractions that we thought we might break a rib.
He quoted a letter from one of Lincoln’s victims, a dim Yankee on his way to invade the sovereign state of Virginia and murder its defenders. Alas, the Virginians were sharper shots. The boy was killed in the First Battle of Bull Run.
How’s that for encouraging unity!
Then there was Mr Trump himself…still among the quick and capable of mischief.
Out in the cheap seats were the fans — the loyal spectators convinced that they were at some critical turning point in history.
‘I was there when Donald Trump was sworn in,’ they will tell their grandchildren.
‘Donald who?’ the kids will ask. Then a flicker of awareness will cross their faces like a shooting star in the night sky.
‘Oh… Wasn’t he the one who was impeached?’
‘No… He was the one who made America great again.’
‘How did he do that, granddad?’
‘I was just joking. He was a total loser.’
That is not a prediction, by the way. We don’t know what will happen. But our conviction as to how it will happen is strengthening. We can imagine two possibilities.
First, there is a very slim chance that President Trump is sincere in his stated promise to go head-to-head with the Deep State, and that his entourage of Wall Street bankers and military brass will back him.
In his address, the new leader stressed that things are going to be different: The Trump administration will operate a government at the service of ‘the people’ rather than the insiders.
But serving ‘the people’ means cutting the insiders out of their cosy deals. And if the president pursues this course of action, it will lead to showdowns…power struggles…and the president’s inevitable defeat.
Mr Trump cannot win a power struggle with the Deep State any more than Mr Greenspan could (if he had tried, which he didn’t).
He needs the generals and the arms dealers. He needs the cronies. He needs the elite. If he wants to rule, he must share power with these insiders. If he does not and there is a real fight for control, he will lose.
Even if the president does not consciously ‘go to war’ with the Deep State, he could simply step on too many Establishment toes.
Either way, the different warring factions of the Deep State would make common cause to get rid of him. His long career is a series of impulsive mistakes, loose talk, and lucky breaks, stitched together with braggadocio and a flair for vulgarity.
That makes him vulnerable to his own worst friend — himself — and to his enemies in the Establishment.
Congress may impeach him after damning information (fake news?) surfaces. Or he may simply be isolated, unable to enact legislation, push the bureaucracy to do his bidding, or get anyone to attend his parties.
There are many moving parts in the Deep State. Mr Trump can try to pit one against another. Most are inconsequential; he won’t really care if the academic elite or the milk producers turn against him. But he needs broad support in Congress.
It is said that he has a ‘Republican majority’ in the House and the Senate ready to do his bidding. This is not true. What he has is a pack of clever, self-seeking politicians sharpening their long knives…and waiting for him to turn his back.
The other possibility — substantially more probable — tomorrow. Instead of trying to serve ‘the people’ — a lost cause, in our opinion — Mr Trump could serve himself…and succeed.
For Markets and Money, Australia
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