The First Speech: Poets & Writers Offer Words for Trump Inauguration
As we prepare for the inauguration of a U.S. presidential administration more hostile to free expression than any other in history, PEN America asked writers to craft an address for Donald J. Trump to deliver at the inaugural podium on his first day as President. We publish their words today, two days before the official transition, in hopes that President-elect and his speech writers might find in them some inspiration.
Meena Alexander, author, Atmospheric Embroidery
Resolutions for the Year 2017
I will paint my tower in lapis lazuli
(That immortal color)
I will command my cavalcade
To toss my cheep-cheep machine
Down the escalator,
I will make peace between humming bird and hawk,
I will greet the poet of Paumanok
Who worked so hard in a time of war —
Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
I will find the child who roots in garbage
For bruised apples, a bit of soiled meat,
I will learn her language.
I will study the signature of clouds,
I will muse on the happiness of trees.
Indran Amirthanayagam, author, Uncivil War
Agenda for the New Year
Let us make peace this New
Year in our homes, our streets,
in our letters, our tweets,
our support for refugees, and
administration of just laws,
and rewriting of unjust decrees
and rules in our fifty states
and our one globe. Let freedom
take up the reins everywhere
and let us not build weapons
of our own destruction. Let us
bury hatchets and disputes, be
kind to our neighbors! Let us
not build any more walls.
Let us use wind, water and
sun to energize us. Let us go
to the streets and into media
streams to speak freely and
protect the back of our democracy.
Let us get our queer and straight
hearts to pump and pump,
our black and white minds
to strip off the fungus of
difference from our daily bread
and let us eat together and
crush grapes together and work
everywhere to remind the houses
of power that people give and
people take away, and we
the people are writing this poem.
Michael Cunningham, author, The Hours
Apologize to John Lewis. Go on from there.
Charlotte Druckman, author, Stir, Sizzle, Bake
NEWLY-MINTED POTUS TRUMP:
To be or, I don’t know, look, maybe it’s not to be? Is that the question?
You media bubbleheads will know because you’re always making everyone feel dumb saying these lies and using big words and oh it’s Shakespeare so we’re supposed to be impressed and listen to you and believe you.
But I promised big ratings—BIG RATINGS!—for my show, The Apprentice. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s only the biggest show, ever. And I promised my presidency would be the best presidency, and it has been, already! Everybody’s already talking about how I’m the best president this country has ever had. I won by a landslide, as you all know. Even if the people who read Shakespeare are saying we lost the popular vote. I’m the most popular person in the world. Everyone knows this. Even Alec Baldwin knows this. You know something? I asked him to stop his stupid skits on Saturday Night Live, but he’s not. You know why he’s not? Because it’s big ratings—BIG RATINGS. I get the most ratings, period. He imitates me, he gets the ratings. So he’s not gonna stop. Okay, fine.
He won’t get higher ratings than me, though. That I can tell you. I promise you I will still get the most ratings.
Here’s how I’m going to do it. Right here, on this podium, I’m going to kill myself. Really, I am. I’m going to take this dram of liquid—it’s fantastic stuff. My daughter, Ivanka, she got it for me from some fancy apothecary, maybe it was Goop… Gwyneth Paltrow, she said my win was exciting. Been in some good movies, Gwyneth. Didn’t love that Shakespeare in Love, though. But Ivanka got me this excellent potion thing. I’m going to drink it, now. And you’re all going to see the most amazing thing happen. I’m going to die. But then someone’s going to bring me back. Bannon or my son-in-law, or someone on my fabulous team. So, yeah, I’m going to die. Then I’m going to be resuscitated. You’ve never seen anything like this. I promise.
[Swigs contents of vial.]
Just in case, I’m going to have my vice president (Everyone, Give him a hand, please. Isn’t he the greatest vice president?) lightly stab me with this kebab skewer [holds up skewer] that’s been dipped in the same Goop stuff. Come on up here Mike.
[Mike Pence ambles up to podium. The President hands him the skewer, unbuttons coat, lifts shirt, presents his abdomen. Pence quick and nimble as a cat, pulls a dagger from under his coat in a switcheroo and stabs President Trump in the gut, twisting the knife for effect. POTUS staggers, falls to his knees.]
Did you just stab me, Mike?! Wow. That has to have been the best stabbing ever. Fabulous, fabulous work. Just tremendous. Impressive. Hurts, but I can take it. I’ll just lie here and bleed a little or whatever until they revive me. [Stretches himself out on dais. Waits.]
[Minutes pass. Blood drains from POTUS. Questionable dram may or may not be responsible for his looking like he’s fading. No one comes.]
Is this not the best death you’ve ever seen? You’ve never seen a death like this before. No one’s seen this kind of inauguration, anywhere… God, I feel weak. You guys are gonna come with your defibrillator and bandages soon, right? I don’t want CPR, remember. Too many germs. No on-the-mouth stuff.
[More minutes pass.]
Is anyone coming? Anyone? Hey, you, secret service?! [Gasps.] I die.
NO ONE REVIVES HIM. EVER.
AND IT WILL BE REMEMBERED AS THE BEST INAUGURATION THIS COUNTRY EVER SAW.
Hafizah Geter, poet, Cave Canem Fellow
I’ve learned that repair begins with apology. But as a black immigrant woman who embodies virtually all the traits the president elect’s campaign of fear has been built upon, there are no words that could bury the hatchet between us. At this juncture, all I want from this man is transparency and truth. I don’t want empty words about building hollow bridges. I want honest accounting. I want Trump to state without pomp or circumstance that he plans to register Muslims, deport immigrants and the undocumented. That his policies are here to further disenfranchise the poor and marginalized and strip women and LGBTQ populations of every protection or right they have left under the law. I want him to state that my blackness, my Nigerian-ness, my femaleness, and my Muslim family somehow discount my humanity in this world and my citizenship in this country. I want him to tell working class white America that the joke is on them as he takes away their access to jobs and healthcare. I don’t want a devil with wings. I want a monster stripped of his clothes. I want Trump to bare his teeth and show us his abyss. I want this because it’s hard to fight an evil that not everyone believes is there—even harder to hold onto truth in a narrative built from gaslighting. Being black in America has taught me to always pick the KKK over the closet racist. As the alt-right (white supremacists) move their way into White House, I want it written in Trump’s own hand that he was the one who opened the door.
Michael Klein, poet, A Life in the Theater
I would want Trump to say on 1/20:
“I was wrong. I did not have America’s interest in mind when I decided to run—but was only interested in the win but not the job itself. For my emotional wellbeing and on the advice of my wife and children, I can no longer con this country another minute and therefore, with humility, immediately and humbly step down and return to private life as an American citizen—if you’ll still have me.”
Azar Nafisi, author, Reading Lolita In Tehran
I don’t want Trump’s speech to have a “presidential tone,” whatever that is, or be gracious & generous, extending a hand to his opponents, apologizing to John Lewis, Muslims & Mexicans, or explaining how as President he is honored to represent & protect the rights of everyone, regardless of race, gender, national origins, religion, ethnicity or political beliefs. I don’t want him to condemn Russia, support the Intelligence reports, explain how running for president taught him humility, or quote from the Founders & great Civic leaders, repeating Washington’s dedication to public service, Lincoln’s government by the people for the people, Stanton’s defense of women’s rights or Martin Luther King’s dream. I don’t ask that he promise free quality healthcare & public education, defending the country’s culture, its celebration of ideas & imagination, reminding us that America has been a refuge for both great scientists, writers, artists & thinkers escaping tyranny and the “tired,” the “poor,” the “huddled masses”—legal or illegal.
I want his speech stick to the truth of what he is & what he represents, to repeat his campaign promises in his vulgar & illiterate manner, insult the ‘nasty women,’ from Hillary Clinton to Meryl Streep, denigrate his critics, High-five Putin, promise water boarding, no gun free zones, dissolution of NATO, while denying climate change, denouncing His critics from Saturday Night Live to John Lewis & attacking ‘fake news’ by CNN, Washington Post & other media outlets. I don’t want any whitewash, any blurring of the lines between what he really is and what some want him pretend to be. So that we will not build our hopes upon any illusions, including that this man will miraculously change, but upon our refusal to allow him & his apologists to confiscate our fundamental principles & rights, redefining who we are as Americans. That is the only we can claim that America still believes in “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” for all.
Andrew Solomon, author, Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change
I would like him to say (but he won’t):
I stand here as a public servant to all the people in this country, regardless of race, faith, sexual orientation, immigration status, income level, or point of view. I am here to acknowledge the rich fabric of an America defined by diversity. I am here to make a more just and equal nation, one where fear, prejudice, and bigotry all disappear. I come here in humbleness to help steer the United States toward mercy and kindness. I am here to ensure that corruption and conflicts of interest disappear from our society. I am here to make sure that the country is ruled with elegance and self-assurance, to continue the great legacy of Barack Obama, who did so much for America with such dignity. Each presidency may be short, but the arc of history is long, and I hope to play my role in ensuring it bends toward justice.
Terese Svoboda, poet/author, Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet
What do I hope our incoming President will say on Inaugural Day? I quit.
Then we can start to impeach Pence. Already I like the sound of that – impeach Pence.
For years Italian citizens paid for billboards excoriating the billionaire prime minister Berlusconi, citing his flagrant misuse of power: the bribery, defamation, illegal financing, tax fraud, and soliciting minors for sex that he practiced for nine years. Berlusconi entered politics to save his companies from bankruptcy and himself from convictions, he had links to the Mafia, big conflicts of interest, and he claimed that Mussolini “had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them on holiday.” Replace Mussolini with Putin.
Berlusconi controlled the media. The billboards that the Italians resorted to sound so primitive next to the confusing panoply of media choices we have now, or should I say, “still have.” We must use them all, beginning now. Mind what George Orwell wrote over a half century ago: “Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism…is founded largely on this belief. Don’t resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it?”
My first meeting with a Washington politician was as a protester against the war in Vietnam. I spoke with Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska, a staunch defender of Nixon. His most memorable speech was given in defense of “the mediocre” in the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice: “The mediocre are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” Proto-Trumpian, except now the mediocre have been infected with greed.
My dream of Trump’s inaugural resignation will not happen. Laurels will be worn. That the emperor has no clothes is no problem for those who want to dress him: the even more virulent Republicans, the Russians. I say, impeach as soon as impeaching is possible. I suggest this not out of partisan anger–sore loser–but a certainty that America will fall if we don’t.