s
s
Sections
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting at 99 cents per month.
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to PressDemocrat.com, the eEdition and our mobile app starting 99 cents per month and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
Ooops! You're out of free articles. Starting at just 99 cents per month, you can keep reading all of our products and support local journalism.
Already a subscriber?

“We are so much better than this . . . This is not helping us.”

— Protester in plaid lumberjack shirt pleading as demonstrators watch a limousine burn on streets of Washington, D.C.

Amid the chaos and cacophony of words on Friday, this guy stood out. He was the sidewalk seer of the day, the oracle. Yes, the violence was senseless and detrimental to the cause. But so were many things that were said and done in the dawning moments of this new presidential administration.

This gentleman could just have easily been shouting his message from the west steps of the Capitol building at about 1 p.m. Friday. Because what Donald J. Trump did with his inaugural address to the nation’s fragile hopes for unification was not unlike what protesters did to the windows of that Bank of America branch and that Starbucks just blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue. He shattered them, leaving many of us sharing that same inescapable thought, “We are so much better than this.”

Abraham Lincoln was a mere 75 words into his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, when he was already addressing the political divisions that existed at the time. “Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered,” he said. “There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension.”

He closed on a similar appeal for unity.

“We are not enemies, but friends,” he said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

If anyone was hoping for something equally bonding, let alone eloquent, this time around, they were sorely disappointed. Instead what followed was a discordant and unfamiliar portrayal of an America “in carnage” and a bold pledge to forge ahead to repair the damage done largely by the new president’s predecessors.

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” he said. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”

The beginning was so dire it reminded me of how historians described the victory parades of ancient Rome, ones that began with the vanquished leaders of distant lands being forced to lead the way — in chains.

“Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs,” he said. “And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Trump was presenting himself not just as the victor but as the conquering hero. In the process, he seemed to be presenting a new doctrine, one that may give him justification for undoing so much of what President Barack Obama and others have done. John F. Kennedy offered the idea of government being a partnership, saying “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Ronald Reagan made famous the idea of government as an obstacle with quotes like, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

But Trump seems to be taking it to a new level. Under his doctrine, government is the problem. It apparently is the reason why mothers and children are “trapped in poverty in our inner cities” and why rusted-out factories are “scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation” and why “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Moreover, it’s the reason why “we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and “subsidized the armies of other countries.”

But when all was said and fact-checked, it was just so much gibberish. America has its share of problems, but Trump seemed to disappear down some dark hole of hyperbole and exaggeration.

Yes, 13.5 percent of America lives in poverty, a figure that has remained relatively flat for the past eight years. But that is far from describing all of the country. Foreign aid amounts to less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget and, according to the Washington Post, the number of people engaged in manufacturing has climbed from 11.5 million in 2010 to 12.3 million now. Although that’s still down from the 1990s, much of that is a result of automation and changes in consumer preferences.

So, no, foreign trade is no more the sole source of America’s problems than limousines are. In either case, setting fire to them is hardly productive.

What was productive was what ensued on Saturday at the massive women’s marches across the nation and across the world. Even here in Santa Rosa, thousands took part in what had to be one of the largest demonstrations in the city’s history. It was passionate. It was pointed — and it was peaceful.

One of the hundreds of signs that rose above the crowd as it flowed along Fourth Street offered a familiar message: “We are better than this.”I would like to think so. Certainly what was on display Saturday was a better reflection of our nation than what was heard the day before. It’s a start.

Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com.