Column: Not a bad start to the Trump era
President Donald J. Trump delivered an inauguration speech to the bars, barns and bowling alleys of America, speaking to the people who have felt for so long ignored.
These are the Americans who carried him into office, and in the opening moments of his presidency he repeatedly assured them they would be “forgotten no more.”
That was clear from a speech ringing with in-your-face populism. It cemented the pledges of his campaign to restrict trade, bring back jobs, rid the nation of the scourge of drugs and poverty and reduce the reach of the federal government.
In short, it assured the Trump faithful that he does not intend to be mellowed or seduced by Washington.
You could almost feel the discomfort among the establishment assembled on the Capitol steps as Trump excoriated the political class for serving itself and declared, “today ... we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”
A few of those on the steps seemed to be looking around for the guillotines.
Anyone expecting Trump to pivot from campaigning to uniting was disappointed.
Much like Trump’s speeches since the election, the inaugural address read like a campaign stump.
The darkness of his acceptance speech in Cleveland hasn’t dissipated; he painted the country as a broken place that only his leadership can fix. And just like at the convention, if he smiled, the cameras didn’t catch it.
His base must have loved it. But there was little effort at conciliation beyond assurances that he stood against prejudice and wanted a better country for all Americans.
The speech was a 180-degree shift from the globalism of newly former President Barack Obama, who looked on stoically as Trump, by insinuation, trashed his leadership and promised to dismantle his legacy.
The appeal was to nationalistic patriotism. “America First” —in trade, in foreign relations, in everything. The days of self-doubt about American exceptionalism and its rightful place in the world are over.
Perhaps more than any other modern president, Trump gets the discontent and disconnect felt by the country’s broad middle, and their weariness with the elitists who control their fate yet have no clue about how they live. And he knows how to play to their fears, as well as their hopes.
This passage captured that cognizance:
“... for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
They may not understand what he’s talking about on the coasts, but they sure do in flyover country.
Trump knows that Americans are tired of being scolded and lectured, and want now to be led.
He stayed on script, and that’s when he does his best. His remarks were absent, for the most part, of the gloating, jabbing and superlatives that have drawn him so much derision.
His call to greatness was heart-felt, and a message more Americans will respond to if Trump continues to deliver it without the distracting insults and braggadocio that mark his everyday communications.
Trump was not frightening. He, at times, approached inspiring. And he articulately identified what he sees as the national mission.
In that regard, it was not a bad start to his presidency.