Opinion: The leading world power bids farewell | News | DW | 21.01.2017
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United States

Opinion: The leading world power bids farewell

In his new role as US president, Donald Trump puts US interests above everything else - even above long-established alliances. In a bid to unite the nation Trump shoots for nationalism, says DW's Ines Pohl in Washington.

Donald Trump is Donald Trump is Donald Trump is Donald Trump. And all those who had quietly hoped that the New York businessman would suddenly abandon his aggressive rhetoric after being sworn in as president have now been bitterly disappointed.

The first speech delivered by the 45th president of the United States left no room at all for interpretation: Trump has no intention to tone down his language even as he assumes the most important public office in the world to date. Instead, he chooses to revisit his signature style from his election campaign.

In his speech, Trump pledged to lead America back to some long-lost greatness by driving an isolationist course in economic and defense policies. He also promised that he, the multimillionaire who filled his proposed cabinet with other multimillionaires, would somehow make the country more fair and righteous. He said he would introduce solid schooling and reliable jobs by stopping any influence from abroad. During his presidency, the United States would only care about its own welfare, he also stressed.

The fact that the United States of America will thus lose its role of playing "world police" is not only a calculated step to this end but doesn't even remotely pose any issue for a man who says he will categorically always put his country's self-interest above all else.

The same words carry more weight now

So there's really no news coming out of the 70-year-old multimillionaire's first speech as president; yet there's a new sense of weight attached to those words. Regardless of what limits there may be to the office of the American president, the vast political influence that this office brings with it simply cannot be ignored.

Pohl Ines Kommentarbild App

DW's Washington correspondent Ines Pohl

About a half million Trump fans descended on Washington from all four corners of the country to cheer on their idol on inauguration day - precisely because this is the kind of man who refuses to budge from his campaign promises. And this volatile political climate can only drive his opponents to stand up to and protest this new political direction.

The lengthy primaries ahead of the actual US elections always result in widespread disillusionment, disappointment and disagreement across all sections of the United States. For many decades now, the new president would try to overcome these divisions by starting his tenure at the White House with gestures of reconciliation.

However, this election season managed to take on new dimensions of poor form and bad taste with Trump's contentious rhetoric throughout his campaign and beyond; there's no sign of any conciliatory words in his vocabulary.

'Tough guy' brand of power

Donald Trump does not believe in the power of reconciliation. He believes in the image and the power of being a "tough guy." He made sure that with each word and every gesture on his first day in power he would perpetuate the idea of a man who gets things done. It would appear that in order to get there, he intends to continue to play by the rules of a demagogue – one who regards all "foreign" elements as a potential threat, sowing further seeds of fear among the masses that follow him and uniting them as a closed front against his adversaries.

These seeds in turn become snares for his opponents, especially for liberal and open-minded Americans, who would prefer to live in a completely different kind of country than the one envisaged by Trump, and who, especially in times like these, regard themselves as being part of a free world, which has to be fought for and defended.

Only for the privileged few

But regardless of the fact that 54 percent of all American voters wanted to see someone else become president - someone who only lost on account of an antiquated electoral system and despite having three million more votes - Trump's followers do have completely legitimate and real grievances that need to be addressed. It would be arrogant and even fatal to ignore the dire realities in which these people live.

It is unacceptable to see how many people are stuck in poverty despite living in one of the richest countries of the world and how many children stand no chance to succeed in life because they are born into the wrong kinds of families, without an education system in place to make up for their shortcomings at home. It is unacceptable that so many people find themselves feeling left behind by this system, which largely only serves the privileged few.

There are many understandable reasons why Trump's followers have long lost their faith in Washington's political elites. It's no wonder that a phenomenon like Trump walks in and fills that gap - in a way that could only happen in the United States. But the arrogance and ignorance that can come with such great power are not limited to the US; these forces can also open the door for dangerous nationalists elsewhere.