Trump’s First Inaugural Address: Populism, Nationalism, Unity

Trump inauguration inaugural address (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

President Donald Trump’s inaugural address on Friday was one of the more unique and memorable in recent decades, with clear themes of populism, nationalism, and unity.

As he took the podium, the sun came out — and, at the same time, a light rain began to fall, framing the mood of the moment.

The 45th President began by thanking his predecessor — but then harshly criticized the status quo in Washington: “[W]e are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), speaking just a few minutes beforehand, emphasized familiar Democratic concerns about the gap between the rich and the poor — to boos from the crowd on the Mall, some of whom chanted impatiently, “Trump!” and “Drain the swamp!” (Schumer was also jeered when he made an earnest appeal for equality based on “gender identity.”)

President Trump, by contrast, emphasized the gap between Washington and the rest of America: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.” He concluded: “That all changes – starting right here, and right now.”

Addressing the “Deplorables” who had gathered by their hundreds of thousands, President Trump added: “[T]his moment is your moment: it belongs to you. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.”

After briefly revisiting the journey, and the movement, that had led to his inauguration, Trump made the case for American nationalism, behind the once controversial slogan, “America first.” “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public. … We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.”

“America First,” Trump said, meant securing the border, rebuilding the military, upgrading infrastructure, and moving people off welfare. He also argued for economic nationalism, including protectionist policies. “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. … We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. … We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American,” he said.

American nationalism, Trump argued, did not mean isolation, but leading by example: “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow.”

And with a flourish, Trump reversed a taboo of his predecessor: “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilized world against Radical Islamic Terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”

Trump then appealed for national unity, and overcoming divisions of race: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. … It is 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, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.” However, he repeated language from his recent dispute with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA): “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”

“Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done,” Trump added. “No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America.”

He subtly echoed the optimism of President John F. Kennedy with a futuristic vision of the kinds of scientific challenges he hoped to undertake as a nation: “We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.”

Trump closed with his famous refrain from the campaign trail — and the slogan emblazoned on thousands of bold red hats in the nation’s capital: “Together, We Will Make America Strong Again. We Will Make America Wealthy Again. We Will Make America Proud Again. We Will Make America Safe Again. And, Yes, Together, We Will Make America Great Again.”

Though there were vigorous protests at access points to the Mall, there were few disruption in the speech itself. Towards the end of the inaugural address, Capitol Police removed a female protester wearing a “pussyhat” and holding an anti-Trump sign.

Several other addresses and performances were notable. The Missouri State University Chorale performed an original song, “Now We Belong,” written by Michael Dennis Browne. The lyrics captured the “Deplorable” mood of the day perfectly:

Here are the voices of every creature,
Here are the calls of every heart;
Here is the place of strangers’ welcome,
We who once walked in strangers’ shoes.
Once we were strangers,
We were welcomed,
Now we belong and believe in this land.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) delivered a memorable and well-crafted address, also on the theme of national unity, reminding the nation that this “commonplace and miraculous” transition of power was an example for democracies around the world. And Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal made an impassioned, if implicit, appeal on behalf of the U.S. alliance with Israel, citing the Biblical passage: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” (Psalm 137: 5)

Though left-wing celebrities shunned the inauguration, many other notables were present. Chicago Cubs owner Todd Ricketts — who has been nominated as Deputy Secretary of Commerce by President Trump — mingled in the crowd, as did celebrated Trump supporters Diamond and Silk.

The full text of President Trump’s inaugural address, as prepared for delivery, is here.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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