The Apocalypse didn’t arrive with Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, but the rhetoric of divine wrath surely did. Rather than adopt the soothing or soaring cadences of Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan, Trump’s inaugural address invoked “carnage,” “God’s people,” and the “righteous public.” He sounded less like Andrew Jackson, the 1830s populist US president to whom his supporters compare him, than the Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards preaching his terrifying sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
For Trump, of course, the “sinners” are not the adulterers and idlers Parson Edwards had in mind. They are the businesses, domestic opponents, and foreign leaders who have rejected “America first.” They are, in short, the “establishment,” much of which was in the congregation. As four of Trump’s five living predecessors – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – looked on, he defined their legacy as one of unmitigated greed, self-dealing, and corruption by an entrenched Washington elite that had immiserated ordinary Americans and brought the US to the brink of ruin.
This was no mere continuation of Trump’s incendiary campaign rhetoric. He immediately began eviscerating his predecessors’ policy legacy. His first executive order took aim at Obama’s Affordable Care Act, threatening to leave 18 million Americans without health insurance within a year (and possibly wreaking havoc on many of his own voters - see chart). In the following days, he signed orders to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); revive oil pipeline projects halted by Obama; construct a wall on the border with Mexico; and cut funding for family planning in developing countries. He also moved to boost a deportation force to round up undocumented immigrants, and has mooted the possibility of reviving secret detention sites and the torture of terrorism suspects. He’s even proposed reversing US efforts to combat AIDS in Africa (a George W. Bush initiative).