The swearing in of a new American President is a big deal. And it’s an even bigger deal when that person is Donald Trump. Trump’s swagger from the Boardroom to reality tv and then into the Oval Office still seems almost unbelievable. So when he took to the podium to deliver his inauguration address, the nation and the world held its breath.
Inaugural speeches are about reaching out to the country as a whole – to those who voted for you and those who didn’t. Their aim most often, is to unite, to inspire and to bring a sense of hope and of new beginnings.
Who can forget Kennedy’s memorable ‘ask not what you can do for your country’ speech in 1961 or Abe Lincoln’s ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all’, in 1865. And in 1981 Ronald Regan’s declaration that ‘government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem’. Big shoes for Donald to fill.
A few blocks away as protesters were breaking windows and being pepper-sprayed by police, Trump took a verbal blow torch to America’s political track record over the preceding decades.
He described an America where “the nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost”, where “the establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country”.
An America in a state of carnage where “rusted out factories are scattered like tombstones”, where “we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry”, and where “one by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores”. He talked of a middle class ripped off and poverty-stricken and streets menaced by crime, drugs and gangs. His somewhat grim depiction of modern American is a departure from other, more upbeat, inaugural speeches.
In his oration, Trump promised to put America First and to get the country back on top. He says every decision he makes “will be made to benefit American workers and American families” and promises he will “bring back our jobs, bring back our wealth and bring back our dreams”.
He says the country will be re-built “with American hands and American labour” and in doing so he will follow two main principles “buy American and hire American”.
In the crowd before him were Trump’s die-hard supporters easily distinguishable by their ‘Make America Great Again’ signature red caps.
On the stage next to him were a swathe of former Presidents – Obama, Clinton, Bush Snr and former President Carter. Tradition, duty and their collective service to the American people brought them here. Respect for the country’s highest office also brought them here. This despite the vitriolic personal attacks on his political opponents.
But to Trump, for those watching at home and the global tv audience, they may as well have been invisible. No reference to those who had trodden the path before him. No acknowledgement of the former Presidents sitting immediately to his left for their years of tireless public service. No deference, gratitude of ‘thank you’ from the next leader of the free world to the party who put him there.
Inaugural speeches are supposed to be different from campaign speeches and Trump’s hatred for the media means we only ever hear from him on his terms. Everything Trump said in his speech we’ve heard before. We heard it on the campaign trail, we heard it in the debates, we heard it from the hustings and in the myriad of television advertisements. We already know the message.
Americans learned nothing from their new President at his inaugural speech. Although it had some powerful and memorable lines, the crowd seem muted and almost polite in their applause. Trump’s frequent pauses seemed to be a deliberate cue for people to clap.
Media reports in the weeks leading up to the inauguration suggested Trump would write his own speech. Ultimately the one he delivered had the fingerprints of Stephen Miller his policy advisor all over it. It was Stephen who crafted many of his campaign-winning speeches and he did a good job because they worked. As I wrote previously, his communication style won him the Presidency because of his capacity to keep it nice and simple for the masses.
The picture Trump painted of a desolate American landscape with him as its only savior was a continuation of that narrative.
Trump talked of protectionist policies which essentially means restricting or heavily taxing imports. In reality that means, the next time Americans are queuing around the block for the new iPhone, they probably won’t be able to afford it because it’ll be too expensive. The US and China are each other’s biggest trading partner. Where is everyone’s stuff going to come from if Trump jacks up taxes on imports or restricts supply?
These are the things ordinary Americans will need to grapple with in the years to come – things Trump says he has the answer to. It’s reasonable to assume for example the ‘Make American Great Again’ baseball caps were made in China.
In the final analysis, Trump will be judged by what he does rather than what he says. His own words may come back to haunt him so it is fitting to finish with those:
“We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it”.
Americans will be the judge come the next election.
But what about you – sometimes when we listen to a speech, we take away quite different perspectives. What did you make of Trump’s speech?