Perhaps French President Sarkozy was just the first to go, and the remaining two corners of northern Europe's austerity triangle -- Germany's Merkel and the UK's Cameron -- could soon follow.
British Prime Minister David Cameron walks past German Chancellor Angela Merkel. (Reuters)
Austerity seems to doing worse than ever in European politics, and the leaders who championed it are slipping down public opinion polls. German chancellor Angela Merkel, the top austerity figurehead, remains personally popular, but the blame-Germany/blame-Merkel trend has been gaining momentum across Europe for months. Nicolas Sarkozy lost the French presidency to Francois Hollande, who campaigned in part on reordering the French-German relationship to involve more resistance to Germany's austerity leadership. Now, northern Europe's scapegoating championship (Greece and Italy retaliated against their leaders much earlier) appears to have spread to the United Kingdom.
In a different political climate, British Prime Minister David Cameron's discussion of the euro situation on Monday probably wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows. What Cameron said -- hinting at a Greek exit from the euro should anti-austerity parties prevail in Greece's elections next month -- is nothing the vast majority of both Britons and continental Europeans don't already know. In fact, a Guardian/ICM poll released Monday showed that 72 percent of Britons believe Greece will leave the euro.
Yet Cameron, whose country isn't even a part of the eurozone, was promptly treated to a scathing round of criticism from opposition leaders within the UK, with Labour politician and shadow chancellor Ed Balls calling him "all over the place" on the euro topic, and accusing him of causing market panic.
Theoretically, Cameron's common sense pronouncement of what people already know shouldn't be all that dangerous. But, of course, political posturing off of leaders' statements isn't exclusive to Britain. It's common enough, especially when the electorate is getting frustrated and the leader in question is looking weak. And there's no doubt that Cameron is looking weak. The same poll from this week showed Cameron at his lowest-ever approval ratings. His party stands only at 36 percent approval, the opposing Labour party ahead at 41 percent. The only good news about this for Cameron is that at least Labour's five-point lead isn't the eight-point lead it was last month.
There's blood in the water, and the sharks are gathering. "I'm afraid the problem," The Guardian quotes Labour's Ed Balls as saying, "is that David Cameron for the last two years has been supporting the German position which is now an increasingly isolated position, a very different position from the Obama-Hollande view that we need a more balanced plan on austerity, medium-term, tough decisions, but a plan now on jobs and growth."
It's a remarkable shift from only two summers ago, barely European austerity plans were far less controversial. Germany, with its quick economic recovery (as it seemed at the time) was the model even for deficit hawks in the U.S., and Cameron was painting himself as a combined financial and social savior.
It doesn't take too much reading between the lines, looking at Balls's statement, to see what he's really saying: In France, Sarkozy's party is out and the Socialists are in; in Britain, perhaps the Conservatives should be put out and Labour should take the reins. Even in the UK, it seems standing too close to Angela Merkel can be toxic.
Perhaps Sarkozy was just the first to go, and the remaining two corners of northern Europe's austerity triangle -- Merkel and Cameron -- will soon follow. If that's fated to happen, one wonders whether perhaps it would be better it happen soon, so that the new spend-happy replacements can bond and form a new coalition. Europeans newspapers said a lot of goofy stuff about the frosty meeting between Merkel and new French president Hollande last week, but their central point is well taken: European Union cohesion, shaky as it is, may be easier to maintain if the key players aren't pulling in radically different directions.
In the meantime, political opportunism is political opportunism: expect Cameron to draw fire for almost anything he says, whether or not it's something everyone already knows.
Most presidents view inaugural addresses as a rare opportunity to appeal beyond “the base.” This was base-only.
For my sins, I have read every U.S. presidential inaugural address ever given, and played a small part in writing one of them—Jimmy Carter’s, delivered 40 years ago today.
The first one I remember hearing, John F. Kennedy’s in 1961, I saw on a fuzzy black-and-white TV from my 7th-grade American history classroom in California. The arctic conditions that day in Washington practically radiated through the TV screen. I remember seeing the revered 87-year-old poet Robert Frost hunch against the wind and squint in the low-sun glare as he tried to read the special inaugural ode he had composed. Then Richard Nixon, just defeated by Kennedy in a hair’s-breadth race, reached across to block the glare with his top hat. Frost waved him off and began reciting from memory one of his best-known poems, “The Gift Outright.”
Donald Trump will take the oath of office on Friday, becoming the 45th president of the United States.
Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Friday, to become the 45th president of the United States.
The day’s inaugural festivities will get underway in the morning and continue through Saturday. The swearing-in ceremony, which will take place outside of the Capitol, is expected to begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by an inaugural parade at 3 p.m. and inaugural balls in the evening.
Thousands of attendees are expected to descend on Washington, DC for the ceremonies, which will likely be met with celebration and protest. We’ll bring you the latest updates from the nation’s capital as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:
On January 20, 2017, the peaceful transfer of American power took place in Washington, DC, as Barack Obama, passed the office to Donald J. Trump.
On January 20, 2017, the peaceful transfer of American power took place in Washington, DC, as the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama passed the office to President-elect Donald J. Trump. Hundreds of thousands attended the ceremony, gathering in the National Mall to hear the swearing in and Trump’s inaugural address, while groups of protesters clashed with police in some of Washington’s streets. President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and their wives then bid farewell to former President Obama and his wife, as the Obamas headed to Air Force One for one last flight.
Recent presidential installation ceremonies have been studiously planned and free of major disasters. It hasn’t always been so.
With malice toward none. The only thing we have to fear. Ask what you can do for your country.
Presidential inaugurations will, at their best, inspire their audiences—not just in their respective moments, but for decades and centuries to come. But presidential inaugurations are also run by people, which means that, sometimes, they will go extremely wrong. Sometimes, it will be protests that will mar the best-planned ceremonies. Sometimes, it will be human pettiness (as when President Hoover, riding with Franklin Roosevelt in the motorcade to the Capitol in 1932, seems to have ignored Roosevelt’s attempts at conversation, instead staring stone-faced into the distance). Sometimes, however, inaugural exercises will encounter disasters of a more epic strain: storms, illness, death, extremely pungent cheese.
The new president borrowed from the bleak, fiery tone of his presidential campaign, but said his election represented the ascension of the people over politicians in Washington.
President Donald Trump took office on Friday with an inaugural address that was striking for both its bleakness and its fiery, populist promises for a better future.
“Today we are not transferring power not 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,” the 45th president said.
Reciting a litany of horribles including gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, and unemployment, Trump told the nation, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
The inaugural address was unusually dark and political, delivered in a forum where new presidents have tended to reach for a language of unity, positivity, and non-partisanship. In many ways, the speech drew directly from the tone and approach of Trump’s often very-negative campaign rally speeches, once again showing that the “pivot” many observers have long expected Trump to make toward a more unifying and detached tone, is not coming. President Trump so far looks much the same as candidate Trump, and his speech was a strange milestone in a strange rise to power, one that was viewed as impossible just months ago.
Commentators love to praise the peaceful handover of power—but this year, it stands as a reminder of the system’s fragility and shortcomings.
Every presidency is different, but inaugural coverage is always the same. Commentators congratulate Americans on the peaceful transition of power and intone solemn sentences about democratic renewal.
There is something unnerving about these reassurances, something overstated, even hysterical. When a British prime minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons and must suddenly trundle out of 10 Downing Street (as some six dozen of them have done since the job was invented in the 1740s; a few more than once), nobody marvels on television how wonderful it is that he or she doesn’t try to retain power by force of arms. Nobody in Denmark thinks it extraordinary when one party relinquishes power to another. Ditto New Zealand or Switzerland—all of them treat peaceful transfers of power as the developed world norm, like reliable electricity or potable water.
He’s moved to establish his dominance of his party, of Congress, and of the media. Now, he turns to the nation.
Even for some Republicans, it is still a bit unbelievable. They have it all now—all the power. They won it fair and square. Donald Trump is assuming the presidency, and Republicans control the House and Senate.
They streamed into Washington this week to collect their reward, the activists and party hacks and true believers who helped make it happen. The members of the Republican National Committee, representing every state and territory, gathered in the ornate, slightly dowdy ballrooms of Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel, where they took care of the party’s business between being feted at lunches, receptions, and inaugural balls. The mood was jubilant: Against all odds, after years of frustration, everything they worked for had come to pass.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
From the nosebleed section of the National Mall, Donald Trump’s supporters watched his inauguration with high hopes for his presidency.
Friday’s inauguration ceremony was the calm after the storm.
The crowd on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall could have easily turned into one last Trump campaign rally, with thousands of red-topped supporters screaming for their leader and boo-hissing any Democrat spotted on the Jumbotrons.
But the mood inside the security barricades was affable, a byproduct, perhaps, of collective exhaustion from the hassle of navigating through security lines. Or perhaps Trump’s supporters simply realized they didn’t need to shout anymore. After all, they’d already won.
“I feel amazing. I feel like this is Christmas,” Josh Hammaker, a Trump voter from Calvert County, Maryland, told me in the minutes before the ceremony began. Hammaker considers himself a Democrat, but broke for Trump in November. “This is the best day of my life.” Or, at least, “one of ‘em. We’re finally getting our country back.”