Trump inauguration: Expect the unexpected

Donald Trump’s inauguration: Expect the unexpected

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Presidential rhetoric scholars are at a loss what to expect from Donald Trump’s inaugural address. But what they do know is that it is likely to be remembered for some time to come, not necessarily because of Trump.

Inaugural addresses are one of the most traditional, tightly structured and heavily scripted pieces of American oratory. If you think that sounds like anathema to what Donald Trump stood for in his entire campaign and beyond you are right. That's because Trump eschewed scripted speeches in favor of making off-the cuff remarks at his rallies or shooting off curt salvos on Twitter.   

Politics | 19.01.2017

"Trump's previous oratorical performances have suggested he either doesn't know or doesn't care about the conventions of presidential speechmaking as a candidate or now in the inaugural situation”, said Paul Stob, who researches the American rhetorical tradition at  Vanderbilt University.

Stob colleague's Jennifer Mercieca, a political rhetoric expert at Texas A&M University, argues that Trump has not just deliberately flouted traditional political speechmaking - he even built his political appeal around breaking with convention.

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Vice President: Mike Pence

Pence (57) is an experienced politician. After working as a lawyer and conservative talk radio host, he served for 12 years in the House of Representatives before becoming governor of Indiana in 2013. The father of three has strongly opposed abortion rights and same-sex marriage throughout his career. He has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order."

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Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

The CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil has close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin - he was even awarded Russia's "Order of Friendship" in 2013. Despite this, and the Texan businessman's lack of experience in foreign policy, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved Tillerson's nomination.

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Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus

Priebus (44), a lawyer and familiar face on the Wisconsin political scene, has served as director of the Republican National Committee since 2011. He has said that the Trump administration will aim to "create an economy that works for everyone, secure our borders, repeal and replace Obamacare and destroy radical Islamic terrorism."

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Secretary of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin

After a long career on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin (53) set up a hedge fund and made millions of dollars buying and rebranding a failed mortgage lender after the 2008 crash. He has since financed several Hollywood movies. Mnuchin wants to cut taxes for businesses and the middle class and will consider public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects.

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National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn

The retired Army general - and registered Democrat - was fired as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014. He has referred to Islamism as "a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet" and his son, a Trump aide, recently lost his job for spreading a fake news story that claimed Hillary Clinton's allies were running a pedophile ring from a Washington pizzeria.

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Attorney General: Jeff Sessions

The Alabama Senator was one of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump. A former lawyer, Sessions (69) takes a hard line on immigration and strongly opposes legalizing of marijuana. Allegations of racism, including a former colleague's testimony that Sessions joked he thought the Ku Klux Klan were "okay, until I found out they smoked pot," cost him a potential federal judgeship in 1986.

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Secretary of Defense: James Mattis

During his 44-year military career, Mattis (66) earned nicknames like "Mad Dog" and "warrior monk." He led the US Central Command from 2011 to 2013, and was a key figure in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His appointment as Defense Secretary would depend on a waiver from the Senate, as US law requires that retired military personnel wait seven years before they can take up this role.

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Secretary of Homeland Security: John Kelly

Upon his retirement in January 2016, Kelly (66) was the longest serving Marine general in US history. As head of the US Southern Command, he was responsible for US military activity in South and Central America, which included oversight of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Kelly's eldest son was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2010.

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Secretary of the Interior: Ryan Zinke

The Montana lawmaker and former Navy SEAL commander had been expected to run for the Senate in 2018. Zinke (55) has advocated increased energy drilling and mining on federally controlled land. While skeptical about the urgency of climate change, he does believe it is important for the United States to invest in renewable energy. He describes himself as a "Teddy Roosevelt Republican."

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Director, National Intelligence: Dan Coats

The former Indiana senator was US ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005 under the George W. Bush administration. Coats (73) is considered a mainstream Republican and served on the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees. A vocal critic of Russia, he pushed for Moscow to be punished for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Director, CIA: Mike Pompeo

The Kansas congressman is a member of the Republican Tea Party movement and a former Army tank officer. Pompeo (52) has defended the use of torture methods, such as waterboarding, and opposes the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. He once said that Edward Snowden, who exposed the National Security Agency's mass domestic surveillance program in 2013, deserved to receive the death penalty.

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Secretary of Energy: Rick Perry

The two-time presidential hopeful said during his 2012 run that, should he get into the White House, he would scrap the Department of Energy. Perry (66), who served as governor of Texas for 14 years, sits on the board for the parent company of Dakota Access LLC, which is pushing to build the controversial Dakota Access pipeline. He once called Trump a "cancer on conservatism."

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Chief Strategist: Stephen Bannon

The former chairman of right-wing website Breitbart News became Trump's campaign chief in August. His CV also includes stints as a naval officer, investment banker and Hollywood producer. Ben Shapiro, a former editor-at-large of Breitbart, described Bannon as "a nasty figure" and "a smarter version of Trump".

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Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon from Michigan, made his first foray into politics as one of Trump's rivals in the Republican presidential primary. During the campaign, Carson made controversial comments on topics such as evolution and climate change.

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Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross

The investor and former banker made billions in restructuring failing companies in industries such as steel and coal, later investing in troubled European banks during the financial crisis. Ross, 79, was a vocal Trump supporter during the election campaign and believes the US needs a "more radical, new approach to government."

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US Trade Representative: Robert Lighthizer

Lighthizer served as deputy trade representative during Ronald Reagan's presidential administration. He returns to government after working as a lawyer for US steel companies for nearly three decades. Like Trump, the 71-year old has argued that the US needs to defend its economic interests against China more aggressively to reduce the US-China trade deficit.

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Secretary of Labor: Andy Puzder

Andy Puzder, chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which runs fast food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr., has long argued against higher minimum wages and government regulation in the workplace. He has frequently criticized the new Labor Department rule that extends overtime pay to more than 4 million workers, and praised the benefits of automation in the fast food industry.

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Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos

As a prominent figure in the "school choice" movement and chair of the American Federation for Children, DeVos is an advocate of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run. She is a long-time Republican Party donor and her father-in-law is Richard DeVos, the billionaire founder of US company Amway.

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Secretary of Transportation: Elaine Chao

In 2001, Chao was appointed Labor Secretary under George W. Bush, becoming the first woman of Asian descent to take a US Cabinet position. She previously worked in banking and as director of the Peace Corps, expanding its presence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Chao (63) immigrated to the USA from Taiwan at the age of eight and is now married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Price

The former orthopedic surgeon was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012 and named Budget Committee chair in 2015. Price, 62, is a staunch opponent of Obamacare, advocating a system based on medical savings accounts. Price has voted against federal funding for abortion and opposes gun control.

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Director, Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt

Over the past five years, the Oklahoma state attorney general - a vocal climate-change skeptic - has brought multiple lawsuits against the very organization he is now due to lead. Pruitt said: "I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

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Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon

The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) spent an estimated $100 million on two unsuccessful Senate campaigns in 2010 and 2012. She has supported reduced financial regulation and a lower corporate tax rate. Trump described her as "one of the country's top female executives advising businesses around the globe."

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Director of the Management and Budget Office: Mick Mulvaney

Mulvaney was voted into the House of Representatives in 2011 as a "Tea Party" Republican. As someone who opposes federal governmental spending, the 49-year old from South Carolina could help Trump defund the Affordable Care Act, but might also be at odds with his trillion dollar infrastructure investment plan.

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Senior White House adviser: Jared Kushner

Donald Trump's son in law, who already served a pivotal role in his campaign, will also serve as an adviser in the Trump administration. The son of real-estate tycoon Charles Kushner is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka. He previously worked in real estate and publishing and had never worked in politics before the start of the Trump campaign.

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US Ambassador to the UN: Nikki Haley

Haley (44) is serving her second term as the Governor for South Carolina. After the mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston in 2015, Haley, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants, pushed for the confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina state house. She referred to Trump's proposal for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US as "un-American."

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin

Shulkin already served as Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health under President Barack Obama. The 57-year old medical doctor previously also worked as Chief Medical Officer at a university hospital in Pennsylvania.

Basic requirements

"He has claimed throughout his campaign that he speaks what's on his mind, not what has been scripted or poll tested or written by political consultants”, she said via email. "This claim to authenticity has been his evidence that he isn't a corrupt politician.”

While this approach may have worked for Trump during the campaign, it creates a problem for him when it comes to the inauguration, said Mercieca. "So, how does a person who claims that unscripted speech is the only real truth deliver a scripted speech? And, at the same time, how can a person deliver an unscripted inaugural address?”  

To give a successful inauguration speech, note the scholars, would require that President Trump at least fulfills the three basic requirements for the genre: Describe Americans as a people holding specific values, explain his political principles in a convincing manner and show that he understands the presidential powers he has been given and their limits and is willing to uphold and defend the constitution.      

"Up to now Trump has had difficulty expressing a vision of the nation as one people, he's had difficulty expressing American values, and he has had difficulty convincing Americans that he understands the office the of the president and that he will abide by the limits of the constitution”, said Mercieca.

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What now Mr. President? Berlin US expats on Trump

No idea what to expect

Given Trump's past behavior, predicting what he will do or say in his inaugural speech is almost impossible. "Honestly, I have no idea what to expect”, said Stob. "I am expecting the unexpected.”

Adds Texas A&M's Mercieca: "Trump does like to keep folks guessing, so maybe there will be something of interest or surprise in the speech.”

What both experts, however, are convinced of, is that it will be very difficult for Trump to reach the goal outlined previously by his team: to unify the country.

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Unity is hard to come by

"Trump's appeal to unity will ring false to those Americans who remember his attacks against President Obama for his birth certificate and all of his attacks throughout the campaign and since his election”, said Mercieca.

"It's really going to be very hard for him to pull that off”, concurred Stob.

What is also already clear regardless of how Trump's inauguration speech turns out is that January 20th, 2017 will be remembered for a long time.

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Web-videos | 19.01.2017

'If he fails they will get him out of there'

Historical moment

"It will have a lasting impact in that it marks a very noteworthy time in American political history”, said Stob. "I don't think that this speech will be known because of any of the content or the oratory, it will be known as marking this peculiar transition.”

"I think that the moment itself is important historically, but I'm not sure if Trump will be seen as the cause or the effect”, said Mercieca. "I see this moment as revealing rifts in this nation's orientation toward change.”