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Vox Sentences: America’s great now, it’s cool, everybody go home

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Tired of winning yet?


President Trump at inauguration John Angelillo-Pool/Getty Images
  • Donald J. Trump was sworn in today as the 45th president of the United States, and proceeded to give a speech that was, well, unmistakably Trumpist. [Vox]
  • The speech is getting criticized for its dark, "dystopian" tone, but honestly it was relatively upbeat compared with a lot of Trump's campaign rhetoric (refer to his Republican National Committee speech if you need a refresher). [Politico / President Donald J. Trump]
  • (Heck, for that matter, there could have been tanks at the inaugural parade — Trump wanted them! — but there were concerns they'd tear up the pavement on Pennsylvania Avenue.) [Huffington Post / Jessica Schulberg]
  • But it was not a speech from the president to America. It was a speech from the president to the people who voted for him — the only people he's appealed to in the past, and the only people he appears concerned with appealing to now. [Vox / Ezra Klein]
  • Much of the speech sounded neutral, on its face — but to those concerned about Trump, and worried that his election reinforces racism in America, they were presented with nothing more than a veiled demand to suck it up in the name of patriotism. [Washington Post / Greg Sargent]
  • (Chuck Schumer, for what it's worth, delivered the Democratic counterpart — facially neutral but, in its appeal, fiercely partisan.) [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • Now that Donald Trump is actually president, however, you no longer have to parse the heck out of his speeches for clues about what his government will do. You can actually watch it. Start with perusing the revamped [Vox / Dylan Matthews]
  • (PS for conflict-of-interest geeks: The General Services Administration did not release its planned statement on whether President Trump is in violation of the joint lease on his Trump International Hotel in DC, which specifies that no elected official or relative should be a party to the lease.) [New York / Jesse Singal]

Is this normal?

James Mattis Chris Kleponis/AFP/Getty Images
  • President Trump's first Cabinet secretary was confirmed Friday: Secretary of Defense and (recently) retired Gen. James Mattis. (Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was also confirmed.) [NYT / Thomas Kaplan and Jennifer Steinhauer]
  • Mattis's confirmation going first is interesting, because Congress had to clear a waiver to allow him to serve at all: it's legally stipulated that the secretary of defense be either a civilian or someone who's been out of the military for at least seven years. Mattis didn't make the cut, and had to get an exemption.
  • The principle of civilian control of the military is one of those things that sounds nice but is pretty complicated in practice; this piece works through some of the issues. [American Diplomacy / Richard H. Kohn]
  • As the military and civilian life get more isolated from each other, though, civilian leaders may still defer to military officers. And civilian control doesn't prevent very bad decisions (like, say, going to war in Iraq). [The Atlantic / Dennis C. Blair]
  • Mattis is widely respected — and other key Trump advisers are very much not. When the Senate held a hearing on civilian control of the military, the testimony was essentially a plea from experts to appoint Mattis so he could prevent "wildly stupid, dangerous, or illegal things from happening" (an actual quote!). [Senate Armed Services Committee / Eliot A. Cohen]
  • The only senator to vote against Mattis Friday was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who makes an important point: In the face of a president determined to break norms, the temptation to break norms oneself is both harder and more important to resist. [NYT / Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand]

Obama goes out with a bang (that kills 80 people)

A tank in Libya Hazem Turkia/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • American planes bombed ISIS training camps in Libya Thursday night, killing more than 80 people (identified by the government as "militants"). [CNN / Barbara Starr]
  • The bombing run was almost certainly the last act authorized by Barack Obama as commander in chief. [ / Richard Sisk]
  • It was as good a reflection as any of the way Obama has transformed war: lethal air operations in areas where the US has some nebulous involvement but no official war operation. [LAT / Christi Parsons and W. J. Hennigan]
  • It's also an illustration of just how screwed up Libya has gotten since the US and other countries invaded in 2011 — with ISIS gaining some adherents, and an anti-Islamist "strongman" general gaining power elsewhere in the country. [New Yorker / Jon Lee Anderson]
  • Russia, incidentally, has just thrown its support behind the "strongman" — and might be looking to parlay its apparent victory in Syria into a bigger role in Libya. It remains to be seen how, or whether, President Trump will respond. [NYT / Jason Peck and Tom Dinham]


  • When Tommy Williams was shot, it was broadcast on Facebook Live, becoming an international news story. Now that he's in physical therapy, trying to recover, no one seems interested. [The Trace / Tommy Williams told to Elizabeth van Brocklin]
  • The Secret Service had inauguration plans to protect the incoming and outgoing presidents and their families. The National Park Service had a plan to protect the Mall's grass — its beautiful, beautiful grass. [Atlas Obscura / Sarah Laskow]
  • Malia Obama going on a gap year trip to Bolivia was actually a significant sign of improvement in US-Bolivian relations. [NYT / Ernesto Londoño]
  • Why superhero comics need more sex. [A.V. Club / Oliver Sava]
  • How hard would it be for the White House to create a convincing CGI version of Donald Trump? Not very! [NY Mag / Brian Feldman]


  • "Initially, it was unclear whether the two, wearing Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini masks, were part of the revelers or protesters." [The Daily Beast / Gideon Resnick]
  • "One protester yelled at a Trump supporter who stood placidly smoking a cigar, clad in a morning dress suit, complete with a top hat. Someone snatched his hat and threw it on a smoldering pile of burned cardboard on the street. He walked away and reappeared minutes later with, miraculously, a fresh top hat." [WSJ / Gabriel Rubin]
  • "On Aug. 18, 2002, after 15 days during which Mr. Zubaydah was repeatedly waterboarded, kept for hours in small boxes, pushed into walls and threatened, the interrogators sent a cable to headquarters stating their conclusions. The prisoner 'has not provided significant actionable info beyond previously provided details,' they wrote." [NYT / Sheri Fink, James Risen, and Charlie Savage]
  • "Stalin once declared at the end of a showing that [John] Wayne, a vociferous anti-Communist, was a threat to the cause and should be assassinated." [Telegraph / Simon Sebag Montefiore]
  • "A seventh-grader shared with me her frustration with the whole mess — indeed, with politics in general. Her class had voted on whether to believe my allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed me, or his denials. She voted for me and wanted me to win. I lost that vote in her class — as I had, of course, with the Senate’s decision to confirm Thomas." [Washington Post / Anita Hill]

Watch this: After San Bernardino, this couple fought Islamophobia with doughnuts and conversation

Meet the couple who inspired the #AskAMuslim campaign. [YouTube / Joshua Seftel]

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