Trump takes charge, assertive but untested as president
Donald John Trump swore the oath of office Friday as the 45th president of the United States, one of the most polarizing figures to assume the office shouldering a promise to reclaim prosperity for millions who have felt abandoned by their government.
Trump, who won the presidency by smashing nearly every convention in politics, celebrated one of the most solemn and sober rituals in American democracy, a peaceful transfer of power that culminated with him ascending to an office that few thought was within his grasp.
In his 16-minute inaugural address, Trump painted a stark portrait of a country hobbled by lost jobs and threats from terrorism and immigrants.
“This American carnage stops right here,” Trump declared. In a warning to the world, he said, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America first.”
In a speech that had the overtones of his divisive campaign rhetoric, he spoke as well of giving power from politicians back to their constituents.
“We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” he said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
Eager to demonstrate his readiness to take actions, Trump went directly to the Oval Office Friday night, before the inaugural balls, and signed his first executive order as president — noting that he intends to seek the “prompt repeal” of “Obamacare.”
He made history on many levels Friday. At 70, he is the oldest president to begin a first term. The brash business mogul also became the only commander in chief to enter the White House with neither government nor military service. And while his predecessors included a screen actor and several war heroes, none became international celebrities in the era of reality television.
The gut-check moments along Trump’s journey — winning his first primary, the Republican nomination and the election — have not mellowed his disdain for tradition. His refusal to conform to political norms helped him attract millions of voters who felt disconnected from coastal power centers and eager to see a leader unafraid of offending people.
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people,” he said Friday. “To all Americans in every city near and far, small and large from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.”
He echoed that sentiment Friday night before dancing with his wife, Melania, to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the first of three inaugural balls.
“This is a movement and now the work begins,” Trump told supporters. “We love you. We’re going to be working for you and we’re going to produce results.”
Trump, who was criticized for his insults against women and minorities during the campaign, called for unity through patriotism even as more than 50 Democratic members of the House of Representatives boycotted the event.
“Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” he said. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
From one president to another
His unconventional qualities, and a promise to bring back jobs lost to outsourcing and automation, helped Trump compile a historic electoral upset in which he defeated 16 primary opponents and trampled both the Bush and Clinton family political dynasties.
As he and Melania Trump took their first steps into the White House on Friday, they were greeted with hugs by the first lady and President Obama — whose legitimacy he questioned and whose legacy was at the center of Trump’s attacks.
Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million, and he has failed to build support from skeptics who see his presidency as divisive and even dangerous.
During the transition period, something other modern presidents have used to mend wounds from bitter elections, Trump has sparred with enemies and inflamed old divisions. He held victory rallies in states that helped win him the election and continued to criticize Clinton in public appearances weeks after she faded into the woods of New York for long walks.
That lingering sense of grievance, combined with resentment from Democrats amid a period of heightened polarization in the country, has helped Trump secure an ignominious distinction as he prepares to take the oath of office. His approval rating is lower than that of any incoming president in decades, according to polls.
Elsewhere in Washington, protesters rallied against Trump’s inauguration, and another wave of marchers were expected in the city Saturday to celebrate women’s rights and register disapproval of Trump. Attendance at the swearing-in was expected to be between 700,000 and 900,000, or about half the size of the crowds attracted by Obama in 2009, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Light rain fell throughout the morning. Many of the city’s subway stations, packed eight years ago for the nation’s first black president, were sparsely filled on Friday, as employees throughout the region were given the day off.
Trump’s speech drew praise from Michigan’s Republican members of Congress but the state’s Democrats were concerned about his negative portrayal of some of the country’s problems.
U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, the Rochester Republican who attended his first inaugural, said Trump gave a speech seeking to show that he will serve all of the people and address the nation’s problems.
“It’s these moments that help heal the past — especially with the Obamas and Clintons there,” Bishop said. “It just seems that people understood that they may have lost, and it may have been a contentious race, but we need to preserve the integrity and history of this country.”
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who also attended her first inaugural, had mixed feelings.
“The prayers that I heard today for our president — to give him wisdom and compassion — those prayers meant a lot to me,” said Lawrence, who decided not to join U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, in boycotting the ceremony. “My fear and my concern is he is not ... grasping the enormous, enormous task that’s before him in leading this great country.”
Setting the bar high
While Trump did not detail policy proposals Friday, he did set a high bar for his presidency. The speech was full of lofty promises to bring back jobs, eradicate Islamic terrorism, and build new roads, bridges and airports.
Despite his ominous portrait of America, he is taking the helm of a growing economy. Jobs have increased for a record 75 straight months, and the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in December, close to a 9-year low.
Spokesman Sean Spicer downplayed expectations for Trump’s first day in office, saying that of the four or five executive orders he will sign, some would be logistical measures designed to keep the government operating. He promised more extensive measures on immigration, energy, crime and terrorism, starting Monday.
Allies couch Trump’s combativeness as part of his appeal.
“As a new incoming president, he should challenge everything,” said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, who is now a lobbyist and television commentator. “He is looking at Washington, D.C., with a fresh set of eyes and I think that’s always critically important because he has the ability to come in and see things that others do not see....”
But even as Trump rode to electoral victory by exploiting that anger, he has been unable to persuade most Americans to join him.
Just 40 percent of Americans hold a favorable impression of Trump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. That’s lower than the approval ratings for Presidents George W. Bush (62 percent), George H. W. Bush (65 percent), Obama (79 percent), Reagan (58 percent) and Carter (78 percent) before their inaugurations.
Yet those ratings demonstrate another truth: Popularity at the beginning of a term does not always correlate with success at the end. Carter and George H.W. Bush lasted just one term. And Reagan, whose lower approval numbers came closest to Trump’s, became one of the most beloved presidents in recent history.
Staff Writer Melissa Nann-Burke and Associated Press contributed.