There was no pivot. There was no olive branch, no binding of wounds, no lofty summons to the better angels of our nature.
The 16-minute inaugural address that President Donald Trump delivered was Trumpism distilled to its raw essence: angry, blunt-spoken and deeply aggrieved.
He spoke of ending the “American carnage” under President Barack Obama, who sat poker-faced behind him on the stage in front of the Capitol as a light drizzle shrouded the scene. He spoke of a corrupt and self-dealing Washington, enriching itself while the rest of the country has gone to rot.
He thundered against foreign countries growing fat by playing Uncle Sam as a sucker.
“We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power,” Trump railed in his rat-a-tat style. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
More colloquially, he fell back on promises repeated throughout his improbable, insurgent campaign. “America will start winning again, winning like never before.”
It was the type of speech – pugnacious in tone, pitch black in its color – reminiscent of the apocalyptic portrait he painted in accepting the Republican nomination in July. It would sound familiar to anyone who attended a Trump rally, or tuned into his series of debates with Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In short, it was a speech that extended the angry, acrid 2016 campaign rather than look ahead to the job of governing a deeply polarized country.
The dark mood – there was much to fear, he suggested, beyond fear itself – may not jibe with how much of the country feels. The economy is growing, unemployment is at its lowest level in years, the stock market is booming, crime is down. By many measures, these are very good times.
But the wealth has not been spread equally and that, to a large extent, accounted for Trump’s victory. Throughout his campaign he spoke to the fears and anxieties of the many Americans feeling displaced or dispossessed, and again Friday he gave voice in his muscular brook-no-nonsense style.
“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” he said, though he did largely ignore the majority of Americans who voted for someone else.
Perhaps it should not have been surprising; the fists-up approach was very much consistent with the way Trump conducted his transition to being president, which was long on angry tweeting and personal score-settling and notably sparse in the way of reaching across the partisan aisle or allaying his enemies.
He lost the popular vote to Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. After that, in a rare feat, Trump’s approval rating significantly declined, hitting a record low, during what is supposed to be a honeymoon period. Or, more simply, the grace period afforded an incoming president.
Given that, Trump might have used the opportunity his inaugural speech afforded to offer soothing words, the way he did in his hastily drafted victory speech on election night, when he generously praised Clinton and spoke of America coming together “as one people.”
There were a few such phrases in his first speech to the nation as its new leader.
“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots,” Trump said near the close. “We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.”
But such big-hearted sentiment was notable largely for its absence; uplift was clearly not on this president’s to-do list.
A more conventional politician might have turned to fancy rhetorical flights, sweetened words and conciliatory gestures – however insincere – toward the Democratic opposition and the millions who opposed Trump on Nov. 8 and vow to do so every day between now and the next election.
But Trump has never been a conventional politician. Had he been, he probably would not have been standing on the front porch of the Capitol, facing the Lincoln Monument, swearing an oath as the nation’s 45th president.
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