Donald Trump’s inaugural address was classic Trump. It showed remarkable consistency with the themes and language that he used on the campaign trail last year — up to his closing assertion that we will “make America great again.” And it reiterated the basic policy promises that he made during his campaign: a tough stance on immigration; an “America first” foreign policy; and a deep skepticism toward free trade.
Trump reminded us that he isn’t a garden-variety Republican. And showed that he will be willing to break from his party’s orthodoxy when it clashes with his populist sensibilities.
The speech was indeed targeted at those who supported him during the campaign, but it also sent a strong and important message to those who did not — the message that we should not expect Trump to change just because he’s been sworn in as our new president.
Lanhee J. Chen is a CNN political commentator and the David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He served as the policy director on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and was a senior aide at the US Department of Health and Human Services during the George W. Bush administration.
Roxanne Jones: America’s other face
No day in our nation feels more patriotic than Inauguration Day — the Marine Marching Band, the past presidents, politicians and power brokers braving the cold to flock to our nation’s capital. But it was hard not to look at the sea of white faces in the crowd, gathered for President Donald J. Trump’s swearing-in, and not see represented a shockingly different America than we saw on this same day eight years ago when President Barack Obama was sworn in. In fact, this was the whitest inauguration I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
Still, I believe Trump when he said we are all one nation with one home, one heart and one shared destiny. Harder to believe his vow to end “right now”crime, drugs, failing schools and political corruption. Trump promised to bring back jobs, build new airports, tunnels and roads. Lofty words for a pep rally, but any realistic person knows no president can wave a magic wand and fix all of these problems immediately — especially if we spend all of our time focusing on the politics of protectionism and fearing our neighbors around the world because they don’t look or pray like us.
Politics aside, I want President Trump to make me proud. We all deserve this. But on this rainy winter day, somehow it seemed ominous that instead of looking toward America’s bright future with optimism, nearly every speaker focused on how we were witnessing “a peaceful transition of power,” as if this is the best thing we can offer the world on this day. We’ll have to do much better than that if we seek to Make America Great Again.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer, reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Jones is co-author of “Say it Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete.” She talks politics, sports and culture weekly on Philadelphia’s 900AM-WURD.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Trump’s authoritarianism was showing today
If anyone had doubts about President Trump’s authoritarian nature and intentions, the inaugural speech should set them at rest. Over and over, Trump communicated that this transition is not like others we’ve known: January 20, 2017 marks the start of a New Era, one unburdened by memories of the past. In fact, less than half hour after he was sworn in, the US Government webpages on climate change and LGBT Workplace Rights Advancement Report disappeared. It’s a clue as to what to expect from Trump’s administration: an assault on the causes and movements that don’t conform to Trump’s ethno-nationalist vision of what’s good for our country.
Trump positioned himself as a populist above all party politics — a red flag of authoritarianism, and another sign that the GOP was simply his vehicle to get into power. This speech warned all Americans that starting “right here and right now” things will be different. It’s the kind of talk that seeks to intimidate, and it conforms fully to the culture of threat Trump’s been putting into place through his tweet-attacks on ordinary citizens and large corporations alike.
Our job? To resist going silent in the face of aggression. To practice in our daily lives the compassion and rectitude that seems absent from our new President’s character. We are better than this. The burden’s on us to show it.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion and a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University. Her latest book is “Italian Fascism’s Empire Cinema.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Mark Bauerlein: A restoration of popular will
Well, the unthinkable is complete — that is, the unthinkable as seen by my professor colleagues across the country and by millennials on campus and off. President Trump’s inauguration speech likely only confirmed their incredulity.
He didn’t soften one bit — no toning down, no conciliation. A “small group” of DC politicians have sold out the American people, he thundered. They have pursued their own interests and ignored the citizens they were supposed to represent, but “you will never be ignored again,” he promised. They have enriched the world and impoverished their own constituents, but “a nation exists to serve its citizens,” not the citizens of other countries.
The contentious manner doesn’t bother me. It is necessary to the great civic meaning of America. As Walt Whitman put it 160 years ago, “The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures . . . but always most in the common people.” He praised “the terrible significance of their elections — the President’s taking off his hat to them, not they to him.”
President Trump is squarely in this tradition. In the last half century, the sovereignty of the people has steadily been eroded by unelected judges and government bureaucrats. They feel that the government increasingly tells them what to do and what to think.
Trump is a restoration of popular will, and the evidence of today’s words shows that he isn’t going to curb his anti-establishment populism one bit.
Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University, senior editor of the journal “First Things” and author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.”
Yascha Mounk: Populism in the flesh
Donald Trump’s inaugural speech encapsulates both the powerful promise and the dangerous logic of populism. Its core is the promise to transfer power from Washington D.C. to the people.
There is something genuinely appealing about that.
But throughout the speech, as throughout his campaign, it also becomes clear that Trump’s definition of the people is as important for whom it excludes as for whom it includes. Claiming to be the true voice of the people, he implicitly casts everybody who disagrees with him as an enemy of the people.
It is this negative energy that most worries me for the years to come. Because once any problem that the country has before you took power is explained by the corruption of your political enemy, and any attempt to resist your rule as an illegitimate betrayal of the will of the people, the path to autocracy is laid.
There are many tasks which those who are horrified by Trump’s ascent will face in the coming months. But perhaps the most urgent is to insist that we, too, are part of the American people–and that Donald Trump does not have an exclusive claim to speak on our behalf.
Yascha Mounk is a CNN contributor, a lecturer at Harvard University and a fellow at New America. He is the author of “Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany” and writes a column for Slate.
Frida Ghitis: Trump starts under a cloud
It kept threatening to rain as Donald Trump became President of the United States. But it wasn’t about the rain; it was the gathering clouds that loomed menacingly over the new administration and the country.
After the oath, he gave a speech that most experts had predicted would do what inaugural addresses do, namely call for national unity, for healing the wounds of a hard-fought election. But no, Trump’s speech was a populist, nationalistic campaign screed, with thinly-veiled attacks on the outgoing administration, and a triumphalist tone that would have sounded routine eight decades ago in Europe.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent.
David Andelman: A warning for the rest of the world
The world was watching, but got little comfort from Donald Trump’s inaugural address. The theme was quite clearly stated: “We are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, in every hall of power,” President Trump proclaimed, “From this day forward it’s going to be only America first.”
The message was calculated to spread fear among so many of the traditional friends of the United States, who have sheltered for decades under its protective umbrella.
Those days may be very much in the rear view mirror. “We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” was a potentially dire warning. One unspoken issue, however, is that as he arrives in office as the least popular president in modern history, how much real traction will he have in many corners of the world to make good on what could only be seen as a threat rather than an open hand of friendship? Still, the new president concluded with a note of hope: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones.” Provided, of course, one is not antithetical to the other. So much to explore in the new era to come.
Alice Stewart: An inspirational message of unity
It was Donald J. Trump being sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, but from where I stood amidst the crowd, people heard and felt his message that “today is the day the people became the rulers of this country.”
President Trump’s inaugural speech was inspirational. Many took comfort in his commitment that “the forgotten people will be forgotten no longer.”
The first step in “The Art of the Deal” is to “think big;” President Trump took that one step further as he inspired the crowd with the words “Think big, dream even bigger.”
As he inherits a country that is deeply divided, President Trump called for unity; reminding citizens that no matter the color of their skin, “we all bleed the same red blood of patriotism.”
Thomas Jefferson made a similar plea for unity in his inaugural address in 1800, stating, “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
That same sentiment holds true today. President Trump reminded us “when America is united, it is unstoppable.”
With gratitude to the grace of President Obama, people across the world were fortunate to witness the hallmark of the American experience — the peaceful transfer of power.
I expect great things as President Trump puts his inaugural talk into action.
Alice Stewart is a CNN political contributor and former communications director for Ted Cruz for President.
Michael Nutter: Now reach for hope — to overcome this fear
I’m sad and fearful today, not just because a great President is leaving office after performing his duties with excellence for eight years, but because there is virtually no indication that the incoming President is actually ready to lead, to inspire, to empathize, to focus, to mature, to change, to act responsibly and to truly understand the power, duty and responsibility of his new position.
Today feels like the final episode of a reality TV show, and that tomorrow we’ll all just watch something different to entertain us. Well, today is real, an election did happen, the peaceful transfer of power is complete, America is still strong and we will move on with our lives.
It’s been said that hope is the only thing stronger than fear. I plan to use my unending hope in America to overcome my fears about our new President. I would encourage America and the world to do the same.
Michael A. Nutter is the former mayor of Philadelphia, a commentator on CNN, and professor at Columbia University/School of International and Public Affairs.
Julian Zelizer: Trump still being Trump
Today’s inaugural address grew directly out of the campaign playbook. He reiterated his vision of aggressive, conservative anti-establishment populism that defined what he is about. Surrounded by the leaders of Washington, he told the world that everyone in Washington had betrayed their responsibilities. It wasn’t simply the substance of the speech, but the tenor of his voice. As he stood in front of crowd of adoring supporters, as well as knowing that thousands were in Washington to protest his presidency, Trump promised that he would be a fighter unlike anything anyone has seen.
For the Americans who voted for Trump the speech will be a winner. They heard in the speech the exact person they voted for and he confirmed that there will be no “pivot” toward a more toned down style. For his opponents, and even skeptics on the fence, the speech will do nothing. They won’t forget everything that this campaign was about and the kind of advisors he is bringing into his cabinet. If there is going to be any kind of unity-building changes, they will wait to see him actually take actions that prove he can govern in a different way. Until then, all they saw and heard was Trump still being Trump, with the big difference that he is now the President of the United States.
Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.” He also is the co-host of the podcast “Politics & Polls.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Salena Zito: A speech that left no doubts
After months of anticipating which version of Donald Trump would show up to deliver his inaugural speech the President of the United States remained true to his populist, non-ideological roots; it lacked the soaring trappings of such moments, simplistic and strikingly strong.
In short if you were inspired by his campaign speeches you were left with the promise that as president he would pursue and deliver them in your name.
“Now comes the hour of action,” he said, then pointed to fixing schools, keeping people safe and restoring the belief that America’s best days lie ahead.
It was an effective, evocative speech with strong vivid language aimed at the people who have felt left behind in this country and spoke directly to them saying, “This moment is your moment. It belongs to you,” he said. “Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
His solid delivery on the state of our education system and eroding manufacturing sector was powerful and he asked people to be part of something bigger than themselves which is inspiring to many Americans.
It was a speech that left no doubt that there will be no rethinking whether he would enact the mythical long-awaited and oft-promised pivot; he remained true to his non-ideological roots and promised to be a president of action.
His repudiation of the “American carnage” of communities impacted by gangs and drugs as part of our past, now he said it was time to look to the future, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only: America first.”
Salena Zito is a CNN contributor and a national political reporter for the Washington Examiner.
Raul Reyes: Trump’s missed opportunity
Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities left a lot to be desired. Instead of the record-breaking crowds he predicted, there were wide swaths of the Mall in Washington, D.C. that were empty. Along with the procession of dignitaries and political leaders, there was split-screen coverage of protesters, representing the majority of Americans who did not vote for Trump.
The new president himself seemed to scowl through many of the activities. And it rained. As Trump himself might have described this inaugural, it was “sad.”
It is unfair, though, to blame Trump for the poor turnout and gloomy skies. Yet at his first moment in the national spotlight as President, Trump proved a huge disappointment. He gave a speech that was dark, pessimistic, and at times ultranationalistic. “Washington flourished while the people did not… the establishment protected itself,” he declared angrily, before the assembled members of the Washington establishment.
The stridently populist tone was ironic coming from a leader who has stocked his Cabinet with billionaires and Goldman Sachs alumni. Much of his speech could be seen as a rebuke to the lawmakers in attendance, including former President Obama, as Trump recited a laundry list of what he thought was wrong with America: crime (actually down in the US), drugs, illegal immigration (also down). As he was throughout his campaign, Trump on the inaugural platform was still full of putdowns.
What was notably missing from Trump’s speech is what Americans of all political affiliations crave at such historic moments: optimism and a vision for the future. The closest Trump got was exclaiming that “America First” would be his guiding principle, a phrase that carries ugly echoes of an isolationist, anti-Semitic movement that urged the US to appease Hitler during World War II. His call to “protect our border from the ravages of other countries” could be seen as playing to the xenophobia of many of his supporters.
On this pivotal day, Trump did not likely win over one viewer or listener who was not already a supporter.
Where was the sincere attempt to bring the country together? Where was the grace or humility as he assumed the presidency? What viewers received, instead, was a mashup of the speeches that Trump used to rally the base that — along with the Electoral College and possibly Russia — helped put him in power. Trump’s speech was more divisive rhetoric from the least-popular incoming president in modern history. This was a tremendous lost opportunity, all because Trump cannot seem to grasp that the campaign is over.
Jeff Yang: The same ‘raw-meat ferocity and garrulous showmanship’
Thinly attended, low energy, underwhelmingly staged—the inaugural production was everything that Trump viscerally despises.
And yet for those who were drawn to the raw-meat ferocity and garrulous showmanship of his campaign rallies, the centerpiece of the ceremony, his own first speech as president, did not disappoint.
In it, he painted a chilling vision of an “unstoppable” America, driven solely and expressly by self-interest. He offered simmering threats to those who might stand in the way of his juggernaut, both domestic and foreign. He did not ask for, but demanded unity, using darkly populist language that echoed the autocratic regimes of our remembered history, from Soviet Russia to Nazi Germany—”rule of the people,” “glorious destiny,” “total allegiance.” (Some commentators even noted that Trump seemed to be channeling none other than comic book supervillain and Batman nemesis Bane.)
Imagine if his original wishes for his inaugural parade hadn’t been vetoed by the military and this speech were played back endlessly around the world as tanks and missile launchers rolled through downtown DC.
Contrast this message with that of Obama’s farewell address, framed as a call not to arms but to engagement and empathy; a vision of quiet strength, not preening brawn; of optimism based on innovation and partnership, not economic conquest and military might.
All this is to say that I share what millions of others feel: this day is less an inauguration than a dis-inauguration; the end of a chapter, not the beginning of one. We will surely survive the next few years to come—but at what price to our people, our stature and our world?
Jeff Yang is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the co-author of “I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action” and editor of the graphic novel anthologies “Secret Identities” and “Shattered.” The views expressed are his own.
John McTernan: So long, you’re on your own
No one can say they weren’t warned. President Trump’s inaugural speech told the US and the rest of the world that he would govern as he campaigned – for and on behalf of blue-collar America. The line that summed that up was: ‘We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.” Across the globe, governments will have noted the looming trade war. The leader of the free world had just declared his opposition to free trade. It is one thing to do that on the campaign trail, quite another to embrace it fully in your first act as President.
This is the thing though. To adapt a term from the tech industry, Mr Trump is a WYSIWYG President – What You See Is What You Get. If the closing of the American economy doesn’t worry the rest of the world, then the defence and foreign policy surely will. Just look at how starkly he put it:
‘For many decades, we’ve… Subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.’
That is a clear message to allies of the US – ‘so long, you’re on your own.’ Mr Trump always made clear he would an American President for American people. If the world doubted that, they know now.
John McTernan is a former speechwriter for ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair and ex-communications director to former Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The opinions in this article belong to the author.