Jan 21st 2017

Translating Trump’s inaugural Speech from the original German

by Juan Cole

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Commentwebsite.

Donald Trump’s inaugural speech, like the candidate himself, was a chain of falsehoods, saber-rattling and scary Neofascist uber-nationalism. But it could be difficult to follow because so much of it seemed stolen from the mass politics of the 1930s in central and southern Europe. So here is a plain English translation of some key passages.

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 people.

You may be confused, as an English speaker. Trump, a billionaire real estate developer and serial grifter who founded a phony university that defrauded thousands, has appointed a cabinet of billionaires and multi-millionaires, the wealthiest and most elite cabinet in American history, which even includes the CEO of petroleum giant Exxon-Mobil.

How, you might ask, can he represent this coup by the super-rich as ‘giving’ power ‘back to’ ‘the people’? The people wouldn’t even be allowed on the grounds of the gated communities where Trump’s officials live.

The confusion arises from thinking in English instead of 1930s German. “Das Volk” or the people was a mystical conception for the German far right. It comprised the German people as an organic whole, uniting great landlord and lowly peasant. The great German corporations, too, were said to be expressions of “the people” (Hence the German automobile company Volkswagen, now led by perfectly nice people but not so much in the 1930s). The phrase comes into focus if you understand “the people” as “white Protestants and some lately admitted ethnic Catholics” who are united across social class (though of course led by their billionaire betters), and who stand in contrast to the cosmopolitans, the mixed-race people, infiltrating minorities, the socialists and others bent on diluting “the people” and subverting its prosperity and power by kowtowing to foreigners.

Trump also used the typical 1930s diction of the traitor within:

“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.”

The traitors to das Volk, the people, are the intellectuals and persons with an international outlook, and socialists secretly working for an international cabal, and the peacemakers and diplomats– who were seen as weak and feckless. There are also religious and ethnic groups who polluted the integrity of the bodily fluids of the White body politic; for Trump these especially include Mexican-Americans and Muslims, though some people around him think that high-placed liberal Democratic Jews are manipulating the Fed against American interests. Obama was one of these infiltrators, the faux American born in Kenya who is secretly a Muslim or maybe a Muslim-Communist. These treasonous bureaucrats and artists and thinkers and soft businessmen ultimately make a pretty penny and gain social prestige and power by betraying the helpless Volk and reducing them to weakness and poverty. They may even be in the pay of foreign Powers.

The Volk are helpless before these traitors unless the natural leaders within the White community take charge and reestablish the mystical union between working class whites and corporate whites. The policy? Economic protectionism and monopoly capital inside one country. The enemy? International competitors like Chinese firms.

“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

The United States has 5% of the world’s population. But its gross domestic product (GDP), at $18.5 trillion, is 22.5% of the GDP of the entire world in nominal terms! The US economy is the largest in the world and is substantially larger than that of its nearest competitor, China (at $11.5 trillion), which, however, has about 4 times as many people as the United States. That is, on a per person basis, Chinese are positively poverty-stricken compared to Americans. Trump has taken the most flourishing economy in the world, which admittedly has large internal inequalities, and made it an economic graveyard by his gloomy rhetoric. (He in fact intends to increase the inequalities). Only by proclaiming a crisis and obscuring the US success story and US prosperity can he hope to convince das Volk that they need a great leader to restore them to their previous glory. Note that abandoned factories are highlighted here, mostly caused by mechanization and robotification of labor so that the big corporations don’t need as many American workers. The actual blight on the landscape of oil spills and mercury dumps and coal-fired plants– the pollution caused by corporate malfeasance– is not mentioned, since, of course, the corporations are The People.

Crime, too, has dramatically fallen in the United States in the past 20 years, but Trump wants people to believe the opposite. Again, only if there is a crisis of brown and black crime will das Volk be willing to surrender their rights to the Great White Trump.

h/t Gallup .

By the way, those gangs he alleges are laying waste to our cities? He isn’t talking about skinheads or white supremacists or neo-Nazis. They, of course, are an essential part of das Volk, perhaps even the shock troops of The People.

Likewise, US education is not the vast wasteland Trump depicts. The US ranks in the middle of industrialized countries on math and reading. But much of the shortfall is because of the lack of funding for schools in poor districts (since local schools are funded by local taxes, the school system reflects America’s vast class and racial inequalities). Trump’s idea of fixing these schools is not to pump Federal money into the poorer districts to even the playing field but to privatize the school system so that the poor can’t even afford schooling at all. That is the kind of thing Betsy DeVoss, who wants to use the government to indoctrinate children into extremist forms of Christianity, promotes.

I could go on analyzing Trump’s lies and his Neofascist code words. But you get the picture. He and his billionaire cabinet are the natural leaders of the white Volk of Amerika, so much so that they are The People. Unlike the racialists of the 1930s, he will allow some individuals from the minorities along for the ride if they are ideologically aligned with the real Americans. He is going to kick out the cosmopolitan, half-breed traitors in the name of America First (not being a historian of the United States, it was only about a decade ago that I discovered how ugly this seemingly admirable phrase is). And he is going to run down all of America’s beauty and achievements and causes for pride so as to pull the wool over the eyes of The People and get them to back him in a new, authoritarian coup government for the United States– one where de facto most of the Bill of Rights are abolished except for the Second Amendment.




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