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Dr. Larry Arnn reacts to Donald Trump’s Inaugural Speech

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HH: A week ago today, I was at the Kirby Center, Hillsdale College’s lantern in the shadow of the Congress in the Boyle studios built by Bold Gold Media, where I was yesterday with Vince Benedetto, by the way. I am in Rosslyn today, but today, I’m talking with Hillsdale President Larry Arnn. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue. All Hillsdale Dialogues dating back now four-plus years are collected at You ought to visit to see everything Hillsdale. And Dr. Arnn, a week ago, we were together anticipating Donald Trump’s inaugural address, and today I want to go through it. But first, your reaction to it from 30,000 feet and a week later? What did you think of the President’s remarks to the nation?

LA: Well, I thought it was almost different in kind from any that I’ve seen. I thought this at the time. It was incredibly aggressive. It was very plain who his enemies are. They were all sitting behind him. (laughing)

HH: (laughing)

LA: All the officials up there, it was extraordinarily, like it was electric. It changed the mood when he started talking. There was a lot of booing in the crowd of Senator Schumer, who wasn’t on the program. And maybe it’s the custom that the person who introduces the Chief Justice is not on the program, and maybe it’s the custom that it’s some member of the opposition. But people thought he’d just seized the microphone. And so, and he talked a long time. And you know, and it seemed longer than that. So it was a rowdy crowd. And then when Trump turned to the microphone, everything stopped. And goodness, he just took off. And there was, it may have been artful, and it may have not been artful. But when he got to the passage of the speech about how the past is over and we’re turning to the future, it just so happened on the Jumbotron was the Clintons and the Obamas.

HH: Oh.

LA: And the crowd erupted into wild laughter. (laughing)

HH: Oh, they did?

LA: They did. You’d think they might have booed, but no, everybody thought that was funny. And so first of all, it was, in my part of the thing, I was in section C, which is, you know, pretty far up, I guess. I wasn’t sitting beside the commander-in-chief, but I had, you know, a certain senator helped me get tickets, and I had good tickets, right? So I could see, and I was close enough. But it was, it just was arresting. And it was relentless. The pattern of speech is a driving point from the first word to the last.

HH: Indeed, his first week has been that, maybe the best word, relentless.

LA: Yeah, and he just, it’s like time’s a-wastin’, and 10 minutes ago is a lot better time to do something than right now.

HH: Let me play for you some of the inaugural address. I want to walk through it and remind people of what was a week ago and then get your comments on particular segments. Let’s play cut number 17:

DT: Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People. For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. 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. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, there is in there quite a lot that is familiar, but there’s a radical tone to it. The Constitution didn’t change. Nothing actually changed except the people who inhabit various offices. He’s making a much more radical claim, though, about changing things.

LA: Well, Reagan, so I’ve been sitting here this morning comparing this to Reagan’s first inaugural, and they’re very alike and different in what you’re just indicating. Reagan says that, and it’s a trope. It’s something they say. This is a commonplace, this peaceful transfer of power. Trump says that, too, but then he says, but this one is special. And this one is special, because I’m transferring power from all those people sitting up behind me to you. And that means that Trump’s first claim is that this may be, it’s certainly very different, and it may be one of the greatest of inaugurations. And so the striking difference, and one of the reasons this speech is so incredibly aggressive, and see, you know, I’m a guy who loves the past of America, and thinks that it’s a glory, and thinks that we have to recover it. Well, that’s not in this speech, except for this one word that is everywhere in Trump’s campaign, great again, again, right?

HH: Yeah.

LA: It’s not Trump’s point that he’s going to build a new country. It’s his point, and always has been his point, that he’s going to restore the country to its greatness. But he doesn’t give a history lesson when he’s doing that, and that’s one reason why it’s such a driving spear of a speech.

HH: There’s another reason. This is the reason it grew on me overnight, because of the clarity with which he states this, cut number 21, please.

DT: We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American. We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.

HH: Larry Arnn, that is a big claim.

LA: Yeah.

HH: We will shine, and we will eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth. Too much of a claim?

LA: Well, what did Winston Churchill say he was going to do to Adolf Hitler? (laughing) So you know, I mean, yeah, no, not really. You’ve, I just, we’re editing the Churchill documents right now, and for 1944.

HH: Oh.

LA: And the, and I’m on Page 460 of 1,400, and then I’m done.

HH: (laughing)

LA: I count pages every day now, because I’ve got to finish. Anyway, the head of the British Museum wants to send a bunch of paintings to Canada. And this is a private note, right, and Churchill writes back and says not a bit, he says. We’re going to beat him. Put them in caves if you must, but he is not coming here. See? So in a war, that kind of absolute talk has a place. But think about this. I’ve, on reflection, because I’ve thought a lot about this speech, because it was very arresting to me sitting in the audience, and I’ve never sat there before and watched one of them in person. Trump’s problem, our problem today is, in a way, the opposite of the problem of Abraham Lincoln, because Lincoln’s problem was the Union was fragmenting around a doubting of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Those who didn’t like slavery thought the Declaration of Independence was good, those who did thought it was bad.

HH: Hang on, we’re going to go to a break, and I’m going to come right back to this subject, how it is different and the same. Don’t go anywhere, America. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue with Dr. Larry Arnn. for all things Hillsdale. For all of this dialogues,

— – — – –

HH: Dr. Arnn was in the crowd at the inauguration of Donald Trump, heard the speech, and was remarking when we went to break how different is the problem that confronts him from that which confronted Lincoln.

LA: Yeah, so it’s a form of the same problem, fragmentation because a bunch of people didn’t believe in the Declaration of Independence. Today, we have two, everybody believes in the Declaration of Independence. It’s just that some people read it to mean a world state run by a scientific class to lead us on to Utopia. And so what’s going on? Theresa May is coming to Washington, D.C. this week, she’s the prime minister of Great Britain, to talk about a trade deal with Donald Trump, because they’re leaving the European Union. And what is that thing, except an unaccountable, multi-national government? And the tendencies toward that are very strong here in the United States. These trade deals that Trump doesn’t like, they all contain extra-territorial agreements that amount to a lot of bureaucracy. And so we’re going that way. You know, Strobe Talbott, journalist and undersecretary of State under Clinton, said things about the eventual international law under which we would all live. Trump stood up for nationalism. That is to say the Declaration of Independence, that passage you just read is a fine microcosm of this point. This passage that you just read says that, well, the Declaration says all have their rights, and in politics, those rights come to sight as their right to consent to the government over them. You can’t have consent unless you have a definite people. That’s why you have to have borders. But also, once a people consent, they become a separate people. They become their own people responsible for their own affairs, as Thomas Jefferson said, and Trump echoes him in that passage you just read. Friends of liberty everywhere, custodians only of our own.

HH: Interesting.

LA: And so Trump was on to something.

HH: I had Richard Haass on yesterday, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and talked to him about the fact that Trump is shaking the pillars of the U.N. He is actually bringing down the temple of all of these organizations, directly or indirectly, by denying them money. He is erecting the wall. And between he and Brexit, you know, two years ago, Larry Arnn, we’ve been doing this for nearly five years now. Two years ago, this was unimaginable that the world would look this way, wasn’t it?

LA: Yeah, we were two lunatics sometimes suggesting things like this. And now, this, I mean, we’re talking about the first week here. And so…

HH: I know.

LA: You know, what’s he going to do next week, you know? It’s amazing.

HH: But it is also, I’ve used this analogy with Chuck Todd and with Jake Tapper and others. It’s like a great concert with a couple of bad songs. And Jake Tapper said the dead cat theory is that he just throws a dead cat on the table, and no matter what you’re talking about, you have to talk about the dead cat. And there have been these off-message tweets, Larry Arnn. Do you think they are simply idiosyncratic about Donald Trump, our new president? Or are they part of the plan?

LA: Yeah, I don’t think they’re off-message. I think, I think Trump is, I mean, like to me, one of the most extraordinary things was his going to the CIA.

HH: Yes.

LA: And you know, we learned last week with Senator Cotton that there was a deal that they were going to get Pompeo confirmed so that Trump could swear him in at the CIA on Saturday. And so, of course, they waited until Monday and broke the deal.

HH: Yup. Broke the deal.

LA: And you know, there’s news this week that Cotton and Pompeo had a big fight, I’m sorry, Cotton and Schumer had a big fight.

HH: Very colorful. I talked to him about it yesterday, very colorful.

LA: Yeah, yeah, I mean, first of all, Schumer should be more careful, right?

HH: Oh, yes.

LA: Because Tom Cotton is pretty good.

HH: Yes.

LA: And he can’t leave himself wide open like where were you eight years ago, and the answer was I was fighting in Afghanistan.

HH: The exact quote was I was getting my ass shot at in Afghanistan. (laughing)

LA: (laughing) So Tom’s a little earthy there.

HH: (laughing) It is, well, hold that thought. I’ll be right back. Dr. Larry Arnn and I are having fun at Chuck Schumer’s expense, and we could do that for a long time, America.

— – – – —

HH: Dr. Arnn, I’ve got to go back to the speech. Before we do, you were making the comment about Donald Trump going to Langley, the Central Intelligence Agency.

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: In the shadow of the fight over which Chuck Schumer broke his word, and about which Tom Cotton was very angry, rightfully so. Richard Burr used the word liar, which is very, very strong language for the Senate. And what did you make of the Trump remarks at the Agency following that breach of trust by Schumer?

LA: Well, you know, so he, the day he, so he went there on Saturday, right? And so he’s been president for less than 24 hours. And he walks in there, and it’s obvious what he’s doing. He’s going to go tell those guys how important they are, and he’s going to do that on TV, and they’re going to applaud him on TV. And then he’s going to further prosecute his war with the media, because he told the CIA effectively, well, in just about this many words, he said we’re going to win this terrible war with global Islamic terror, and you’re going to be key to that, and I have complete confidence in you. And meanwhile, I have my own running war with the media, and they have been pretending that I am at odds with you, and we know better than that, and then there’s wild cheering.

HH: Yeah.

LA: Now if you’re, you know, the anchorperson on CBS News, I can’t remember who that is right now. Never mind. How are you going to argue with that, because that was pretty good (laughing).

HH: They tried to argue it. The pool report tried to make it sound as though that was Trump’s staff, but in fact, Sean Spicer laid that to bed. It was not Trump’s staff. It was the Agency, 400 people of the Agency cheering him. And his fight was with John Brennan, who was a former CIA director, and James Clapper, a very honorable man but at odds with Donald Trump, and with Barack Obama, and mostly with Ben Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett. He was fighting against political people who said they were representing the intelligence community, and Trump called them out on it.

LA: Yeah, you know, there’s a Hillsdale College parent who was big, and he’s retired now, but he was big in the intelligence world, and he knows Clapper really well. And Clapper spoke at his retirement ceremony, which I attended. And I gather that Clapper is a really great guy.

HH: Yup.

LA: But Clapper criticized the President-Elect in the Congress, and he shouldn’t have done it.

HH: I agree.

LA: He shouldn’t have even, he should have said, you know, when it was, the point that he made was, he said being critical, demeaning goes beyond critical. And that would be a point for him, a man of great experience, and apparently a really great man to say back, he is the elected commander-in-chief. And of course, we have no criticism to make of him. We will tell him the truth as we know it.

HH: That’s exactly, and it eluded him. Even good men make bad judgments.

LA: Yeah.

HH: Let me go back to the speech. A few things I want to play for the audience and get your comments. Cut number 22 where he talks about loyalty, cut number 22:

DT: At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us, “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear – we are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.

HH: Larry Arnn, loyalty, no prejudice, protected by our military and our police, and protected by God. That was a minute, twenty seconds, and it had a lot in it.

LA: Oh, yeah, and remember, this is a very short inaugural address, and they tend to be short. This is shorter than most of them, and it’s very pointed. And it’s, so, and he gave, as you said, a minute, twenty seconds to that point. So he wants us, you can translate this into the terms of Abraham Lincoln, who said many things just like what Donald Trump just said, in Lincolnian language. He says that the Declaration of Independence is the electric cord, and that it becomes the father of all moral principle in us, says Lincoln. And so what Trump is saying is our country is what we have in common, we who live on this land. And it is actually, truly, the thing we have in common, and the thing that makes us different from every other people on Earth. And so to resurrect that language, and of course, that word, patriotism, because see, he didn’t, he didn’t, and you know, this is what I would suggest that he alter over time, because I think the speech was very effective and very great, and a hundred words from being maybe the best, or one of the best in modern times. It was one of the best in modern times, maybe the best. But he should, I think he should deploy, because patriotism, right, that comes from the Latin, you know, it means father, the fatherland. Well, that’s a very fine and respectable way to talk. But our particular fatherland is formed under principles that lay the ground for citizenship. And so if he put that connection together, that would be, I think, by telling, the Americans are a people with a story.

HH: Here’s where he comes closest to doing that, Dr. Larry Arnn.

LA: Okay, yeah.

HH: Let’s play cut number 23:

DT: Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn, a nation is only living, he says, when it’s doing certain things. Now arrives the hour of action. We all bleed the same red blood of patriotism. He’s talking about what you were just referring to, the idea of nation.

LA: Yeah, our nation, and it, see, people miss it. Modern liberals, by the way, have reinterpreted the Declaration of Independence to exclude this understanding. But if you just read through the Declaration of Independence, you see that its purpose is to give rise to a nation…

HH: Yup.

LA: …constituted by the consent of its citizens. And the energy in that nation comes from the challenge they all have to help govern the nation and themselves. And that’s why it’s the most energetic nation on Earth. And so that thing, I mean, first of all, it, sitting there, it was, you know, I’m, you know, what have I got in my head, right? We’d just been on the radio for the last two weeks talking about great inaugural addresses.

HH: Yup.

LA: And I just read a whole bunch of them, right? And so I go down, you know, I’ve got my checklist in my mind. And what I thought was this is different. Now by the end, I didn’t think it was different as I thought it was at the beginning. But it was, don’t miss anything, and this first week in office proves it. This is a declaration of war. This, Donald Trump is going to name people and fight them. and that’s what he’s doing. And it’s the strongest forces in the land he’s taking on. And I mean, the trade unions, right, he’s recruiting them. And the intelligence community, he went to go get them. And he’s isolating his enemies who you know, he beat in the general election, and who are the minority in the Congress. And he intends to just pummel them, I think.

HH: He is. That’s exactly, exactly right. One more segment with Dr. Arnn, one more segment of a very memorable inaugural address a week ago. Next week, we return to the Abolition of Man, if events allow, if events allow. Don’t go anywhere, America. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn on the Hillsdale Dialogue, all of which are collected at

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, I’ve got to say about my book, I executed a little plan. I love it when it comes together. I knew they were going to Philadelphia. So I sent a copy to be put in every room of the members of Congress, and Lamar Alexander confirmed he’d gotten it and read it, and talked to me about it, and Matt Spalding told me it was up there. I love it when a plan comes together. And our plan for the inaugural week has come together. Let me play you one last clip of Donald Trump, cut number 24:

DT: And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again. Thank you, God Bless You, And God Bless America.

HH: Now Larry Arnn, I was on NBC at this time, and I thought the speech was grim, but it grew on me. The American carnage line stuck with me. But at the end, when he did this, he rhetorically tied his campaign to his inaugural address. It’s actually a fine bit of speechwriting.

LA: Oh, yeah. It’s very, it is very beautiful, and the part where the wisdom of the soldiers and all the same color blood running through the child looking up and seeing the same night sky and the same, protected by the same Almighty Creator, and then proceeding to make America great again. That is lovely. And remember what’s controversial about it, right, because if this was Hillary Clinton, we might have heard that the child in Damascus, the refugee child, looks up at that same night sky, you see? And that means that Trump thinks that the nation state has an integrity, a natural integrity, that it is a firm thing, and the only way to get our freedom, and that is the thing we own.

HH: Now the objections to it have been that he used the word carnage, and it’s called the American carnage speech. And I have replied to some of my friends on the left the best movie in America this year is called Moonlight. It is about African-American child, A.J. with a crackhead mother whose sexual orientation is in question. He’s bullied, and he’s beaten up, and life is hard on him. It’s full of crime in a terrible neighborhood. And everyone loves this movie. Liberals love this movie. I love this movie. I thought it was very evocative of a place I do not know and a life I did not live. But it is an American carnage moment. And so Donald Trump was speaking the truth about a lot of America, and that’s why he won. But the liberal elites did not like that word carnage, Dr. Arnn.

LA: No, well, let me read you a little bit from Reagan. So Reagan writes, “These United States,” in his first ingural, “confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the most sustained inflations. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, crushes the struggling young and the fixed income elderly, threatens to shatter the lives of millions. Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery, and personal indignity.” Those are very similar words.

HH: Yeah, they are.

LA: And…

HH: I hadn’t thought of that. You’re absolutely right.

LA: Yeah, and so this, see, the reason, you know, if somebody says in his first inaugural address a bunch of people have wrecked America, then it’s really interesting to see who takes offense.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: so a last thing. He’s not the most stylistically gifted speaker. It is a hammer blow after a hammer blow after a hammer blow. How does that wear long term? Lincoln had many different tones, many different keys in which he sang and did his poetry. Brevity was one of them. It was very good. What do you think? A last minute to you. Does he change it much?

LA: Well, Lincoln and Trump had great sense of humor. Trump has, so did Churchill. He’s going to need it, and we’re going to need it.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) Yeah, I think, you know, first of all, if he’s, you know, we may see. We’re going to see him cornered, right, and assailed. And he will fight. But he’s really good at telling jokes, too.

HH: Yes, he is, and that’s what they don’t get at the CIA. He told a few jokes, and people took umbrage. It was remarkable. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you again for opening up Kirby Center for me when I’m in town this week, and God speed. We will be back on the Abolition of Man next week, and looking forward to it. Thank you, Dr. Larry Arnn.

End of interview.


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