ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Joining me here in the studio to discuss the start of the Trump presidency is “NewsHour Weekend’s” Jeff Greenfield.
Jeff, you were a speechwriter for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. So, what struck you about the Trump inaugural speech?
JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND: How much it was consistent with the most forceful arguments of his campaign. There was very little give in saying, “OK, now that I’m president, I’ve got to be a little different.” Yes, there were touches about “we have to be together and we’ll be unified.”
But the central arguments of his campaign, that the big shots in Washington have betrayed you, have gotten rich and powerful at your expense, and all those countries overseas have prospered at your expense, was front and center in the speech. And I did not expect the speech — actually, I was wondering before, would he be as forceful and blunt and tough about that as he was in the campaign? And the answer was yes.
ALISON STEWART: One of the phrase that jumped out to a lot of people was “America first”, because it has a fraught past. And it also gives us a signal to what he might be thinking about going forward, the way he’s going to steer policy.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Right, the history is that that the end of the 1930s, people who were opposed to helping the Great Britain resists Hitler didn’t want us to have any possibility of entering that war formed the America First Committee, and it was actually a fairly distinguish committee for a while. You know, people like Norman Thomas, a socialist leader, the publishers of powerful newspapers, Gerry Ford, John Kennedy, both contributed to it. But Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, who was their principal spokesperson, gave a speech where he suggests that American Jews, with all their power in the media, were going to drag us into that war. So, it has a very bad, you know, context.
The broader context that we’re going to put America’s interest first, that’s much more traditional, at least in the years before World War II and the more international aspect of American life.
But it certainly suggests that, you know, once again, what he said he would do in the campaign is something that he thinks he can do. If I were a foreign leader or an analyst abroad, I’d be very, very concerned with what the real implications of that are.
ALISON STEWART: Well, from that speech, what should we be looking for in terms of policy?
JEFF GREENFIELD:One of the things that if I were a Republican leader in Congress would give me a little bit of agita is that when he says the establishment has betrayed middle-class and working class people. He’s talking about both parties. It’s another reminder, in effect, he is a third-party candidate who happened to get control of one of the two major parties.
So, on issues like big infrastructure program, for instance, which is not part of the Republican playbook —
ALISON STEWART: They’re not going to be so happy about spending money on infrastructure.
JEFF GREENFIELD: That’s part of it. Free trade has been part and parcel of the Republican playbook for 60 years or more. He is clearly not a free trader.
And then when he says, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody”, which is at least something he said in one of his interviews — well, how does that square with the Republican congressional agenda which no matter what plan you look at, looks to be a lot more cost effective, is one way to put it, or penurious in terms of coverage.
So, there are some signals there from the inaugural, to the shock of some people in Washington, that he apparently means to try to do what he said he was going to try to do.
ALISON STEWART: Mr. Trump’s speech had a phrase in it, “American carnage”.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Yes.
ALISON STEWART: Now, the fact checkers jumped right on top of this, saying, by all economic indicators, we are in a much better position than we were, say, eight years ago. So, what is he trying to do there? What is he getting at with American carnage?
JEFF GREENFIELD: It’s almost the same message he had in his acceptance speech. He sees — Reagan once called it “Morning in America”, he sees midnight in America. And what he sees are people who’ve been left behind and defines that as a country as a whole. So, the fact checkers are right in terms of, you know, 4.7 percent unemployment, real wages are actually rising. But he’s talking about the people who formed the core of his support who have been left behind by globalization, by new technologies, and who are not as well off as they were.
Now, you know, defining that group of Americans as the country as a whole seems to be kind of myopic. But it is the precise reason why those people who are for him in those real areas in the Rust Belt were so passionate for him.
ALISON STEWART: Jeff, let’s talk about today’s events, the huge protests that are happening in major cities, and in smaller cities all across the country. It’s the Women’s March in Washington. And if you go to their website, this is their stated purpose: for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health and our families, recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.
Given the size of these marches and the — and how far spread they are around the globe, it seems like it’s more than that.
JEFF GREENFIELD: I think it is really almost a primal expression of fear, anger, determination to push back on Donald Trump. Whether it’s what he’s had to say about women, the actions that he’s boasted of, his positions on things like abortion and Planned Parenthood. But I think it would be a mistake to look at this march as a singular march. The definition that you gave us, that’s pretty broad. That can mean everything from affordable health care to pay equity to, you know, abortion to gay rights to —
ALISON STEWART: Climate.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Yes. So I don’t — I think it’s different from, for instance, the marches about Vietnam or the right-to-life march that will happen in a few weeks. We know what those marches are about and you can be very specific. I just think in this case, it’s much more of a very wide coalition of people who just still are in a state of almost shock that Donald Trump is the president of the United States.
ALISON STEWART: Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Pleasure.