Rhetoric and reality

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President Donald Trump’s inaugural address may not have risen to the rhetorical level of John F. Kennedy (“The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”), or Ronald Reagan’s critique of government (“Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”), or even Barack Obama’s in 2009 (“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord”), but the speech set out large goals, many details of which are yet to be revealed.

That’s okay, though, because in the words of President Obama in his first inaugural address: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.”

The ground has not only shifted again, it may have opened up to receive the failed policies that have caused the problems Trump addressed in his speech.

The new president reflected the views of his supporters when he said, “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” He added, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

That should have made members of the establishment and politicians in attendance nervous. Perhaps they were thinking, “We survived Reagan’s attempts to shrink government, we can survive Trump, too.”

Mr. Trump said his “new vision” would place “America first” and that decisions will be made based on whether they benefit the U.S. more than other countries.

Perhaps his most grandiose pledge was to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth. That’s easier said than done, given that radical Islam is a philosophy tied to an apocalyptic religion with no headquarters and no single leader. He could start by following through on his promise of “extreme vetting” for people wanting to enter the country from nations that promote and export the terrorist ideology.

Another grandiose promise reiterated one he made during the campaign: to fix the inner cities, which have been run for decades by Democrats. He said that crime, drugs and gangs have stolen many lives. “This American carnage,” he called it. Similar promises have been made over several administrations, but the problem seems to have only gotten worse. How does government put fathers back in homes or create families where none existed? School choice, which Trump favors, will help some, but gangs and drugs are a deeper and more complicated problem.

Trump is unlike any president we have had, perhaps a bigger populist than Andrew Jackson or Theodore Roosevelt. While many of his goals lack specifics, at least he has goals and appears to care less about the journey than the destination. This could keep the depleted Democrat opposition in Congress off balance. If he continually focuses on the problem, rather than the process, the process might be simply a matter of negotiation, which Trump has long claimed is his strong suit.

Every president starts his administration with a blank slate. Trump needs to keep problems front and center, moving quickly toward solutions. If the left denies these problems even exist, they lose.

Trump seems to believe, as Ronald Reagan did, that the people, properly inspired, motivated and confident, are the ones who make America great and not himself, or any other politician. As that old ‘60s chant goes, “The people united can never be defeated.”

Trump’s best chance at uniting will come when problems begin to get resolved. If the Left wants to oppose success, let them.

[Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.] ©2017 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.