President Trump’s inaugural address echoes combative campaign rhetoric
Hope of more conciliatory tone vanishes with unashamedly nationalistic and mean-spirited speech
Any hope that Donald J Trump might strike a more conciliatory tone when he became the American president vanished with a forceful inaugural address that echoed the combative rhetoric of his outsider campaign.
The President Trump who delivered the inaugural address on the steps of the US Capitol was no different to the tough-talking candidate who descended that gold escalator in Trump Tower when he announced his candidacy.
Trump’s address was unashamedly nationalistic, castigating policies that put the interests of foreign countries ahead of those of the US and promising a shift to protectionism that would restore America’s fortunes.
He may be divisive and deeply unpopular among many Americans, including within his own party, but he is consistent and has pushed the same message: he is not of the political class and he is intent on upending the system.
The billionaire spoke directly to the people of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida who vented at the American politician establishment and were willing to take a punt on a man who had never held public office before.
Reviving the themes that swept him to the White House in an improbable victory in the November presidential election, the 45th president repudiated the Washington establishment and politics as usual, characterising his inauguration as a moment when a populist champion recovered political power for the American public.
“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,” the new US president told a large crowd from the steps of the US Capitol in a defiant inaugural address.
Trump lambasted a political elite that thrived while failing to meet the needs of everybody people. Describing a country at a bleak moment of crisis and danger, he vowed, as he has for months, to “make America great again.”
In a speech that will delight his core blue-collar base, he cast himself as an agent of change sent to Washington to win back control of government for the people who had been left behind by those they elected to represent them.
The remarks were in line with the many aggressive stump speeches he delivered during an 17-month campaign denouncing career politicians at a time of deep unpopularity for the Washington politics.
“January 20th 2017 will be remembered as the day the people became the rules of this nation again,” he said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
The speech was mean-spirited delivered within feet of his predecessor Barack Obama and the many congressional leaders he must work with. The property tycoon and television celebrity admonished politicians for failing to represent the interests of the American people while they flourished, prospered and protected themselves.
“Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumph and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little celebrate for struggling families all across our land,” he said.
“That all changes - starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.”
Returning to the pessimism of his acceptance speech when he became the Republican presidential nominee in Cleveland in July, Trump painted a dark picture of the state of the country that will appeal to the lower and middle-class families of the industrial midwest and the Appalachian mountains who sealed his election victory.
He talked about families “trapped in poverty”, “rusted-out factories like tombstones across the landscape of our nation”, a cash-rich education system that deprives “young and beautiful” students of knowledge and the crime, gangs and drugs that have “stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential.”
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he said, drawing on evocative language that had never been heard from a president in an inaugural address before.
Foreign leaders will have shuddered at the tone of this speech and his charge that America’s economic and military fortunes had declined at the expense of policies that aided other countries.
“From this moment on, it’s going to be ‘America First,’” Trump said, revisiting the theme of so many of those bombastic rally speeches from the campaign. “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to the benefit of American workers and American families.”
Trump distilled his plans down to a basic pledge: “We will follow two simple rules - buy American and hire American” - a statement that will sends a strong message to the country’s biggest trading partners: this new US administration will be far more aggressive in putting its own economic and military interests first.
Trump followed the tradition of past inaugural addresses by seeking out common ground to unify a deeply divided country after a long and acrimonious election campaign. It was around a call to arms and country.
“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.”
In his inaugural address, Trump was angry and belligerent again. It was a signal to those at home and abroad that Donald Trump the candidate and Donald Trump the US president are one and the same man.
It marked the end of tumultuous election campaign and the start of what promises to be a turbulent presidency.