President Donald Trump lays bare his vision of ‘America First’
Property tycoon’s inauguration speech strikes unashamedly nationalistic tone
As Donald J Trump addressed the American public for the first time as the 45th president of the United States, people took cover. Moments after he was sworn into office, it began to rain.
It was not a downpour but spitting rain. The overcast skies matched the tone of the new Republican president’s address as he stuck to his dystopian vision of an America in decline, painting a picture of a country of inner-city families “trapped in poverty” and “rusted-out factories like tombstones across the landscape of our nation”.
The property tycoon’s inauguration speech, delivered from the steps of the US Capitol, struck a nationalistic tone. He left no doubt that the man who moved into the White House yesterday would be no different from the man who campaigned so aggressively and divisively to get in there.
There is only one Donald J Trump.
There was no new spirit of generosity. There was no evoking the “better angels of our nature”, as Abraham Lincoln said, or a reassurance that fear was only thing to fear, as Franklin D Roosevelt said.
Instead, the former reality TV star – after being sworn in at noon with a hand on Lincoln’s Bible and another that his mother gave him in 1955 – talked about “an American carnage” caused by crime, gangs and drugs and the disappearance of American wealth, strength and confidence “over the horizon” with the loss of jobs overseas.
American politicians selling out the nation to foreign countries were to blame.
Borrowing from the “midnight in America” theme of his speech when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination in July, Trump proposed a new dawn to this bleak view of the country he has inherited.
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be ‘America first’,” he said, in a call to arms directed at the disgruntled Americans who propelled his rise.
This was just another Trump campaign speech, another offering of his defiant populism polished up for the occasion marking his ascent to power. Like his campaign promises, it set stratospheric expectations.
“We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth,” he said.
It was a victory lap to remind the white factory workers of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin why they sent him to Washington: to put manners on politicians, shake up the system and take back economic fortunes from abroad.
As inaugural addresses go, it was certainly different. He dispensed with the rhetorical flourishes of his predecessors, choosing neither to acknowledge his opponent nor call on the rival parties to come together.
Instead, he played again on the anxieties of his core supporters in the so-called flyover states – “the forgotten men and women” – and stuck it to the Washington politicians so reviled in those parts of the US.
It was mean-spirited, delivered within feet of the congressional leaders he must now work with and alongside his predecessor Barack Obama, as Trump tore into the country the 44th president left behind.
“Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you, the American people,” he said.
The crowds may have been smaller at this inauguration and ceremonial changing of the guard but Trump’s inauguration represents a ground-shifting transformation in American politics.
This rebellious Republican made it clear the US would no longer take the post-war role of flag-bearer of liberal democratic values in the world and the western alliances of old were not necessarily guaranteed.
He put a globalised world on notice with plans to follow two simple rules – “Buy American and hire American” – and said that unity at home would come from loyalty to the flag.
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other,” he said.
“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
The divisiveness of Trump’s manifesto was witnessed even as he took the oath of office. A small group of protesters demonstrating at the legitimacy of his presidency managed to secure seats in a ticketed area in front of the Capitol and tried to interrupt the Republican as he recited the presidential oath.
In downtown Washington, at least 95 demonstrators were arrested as protests turned violent, forcing police to fire tear gar and flash grenades to disperse crowds blocks from Trump’s inaugural parade route to the White House.
As the new president dined with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, images circulated of protesters rioting on the streets. It felt like the beginning of the resistance.
They threw rocks and bricks at police, smashed car windows and the glass fronts of a bank and coffee shop in downtown Washington and set rubbish bins and three cars ablaze in Trump’s new home town.
The president’s tough talk and unwillingness to temper the language of his campaign may make images like those commonplace in the US.
America, world, take cover.