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Analysis: Trump inaugural speech makes sharp break with past, and his party


NewsHubDonald Trump began his presidency as he ran his campaign – with blunt, searing talk about a crippled nation in dire need of bold, immediate action. His inaugural address broke with those that came before it. This, he made clear in case anyone had not yet gotten it, will be a very different presidency.
Standing on a platform with much of the Washington establishment, he tore into the people who have run the country. He spurned the poetry and grandeur of most inaugural speeches and instead delivered a rallying cry, remniscent of his stream-of-consciousness campaign talks, brimming with brash bravado about his intention to bring massive change: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
“This was pure Trump, just a declaration of war against the Washington establishment and President Obama,” said Craig Shirley, author of books on Ronald Reagan and a Republican political consultant. “It was not the usual call for togetherness; it was Trumpism, the speech of a businessman – problems and solutions, very utilitarian.”
After a quick nod to his predecessors, Trump launched immediately into a fiery recitation of the ills of a nation that he has long described in apocalyptic terms – a crippled, hollowed nation in need of immediate, intensive care.
Trump portrayed the source of the country’s problems as the government he now leads. “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” he said. “Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”
Trump had promised for nearly a year that when the time came, he would pivot to a style he called “presidential.” But his speech made clear that he intends to govern as he campaigned, in direct communion with his followers, bypassing the usual niceties and channels of power.
“This was a campaign speech,” said Elvin Lim, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore who has written extensively on inaugural addresses. “This is a big break from the inaugural tradition: where others have emphasized continuity, he stressed that this is a sharp break with everything that has come before.”
Trump said in recent days that he was inspired by the inaugural addresses of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. But there were few echoes of their poetic, uniting rhetoric in Trump’s address.
Instead, Trump paid tribute to Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era homage to the “forgotten man,” tapped into a bit of Reagan’s language of optimism about American energy and resolve, and included a line that almost directly shadowed Kennedy, promising that at “the birth of a new millennium,” the nation is “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.”
But this was no occasion for eloquence or abstract ambition, Trump made clear. Rather, this was, as Lim said, “a defiant speech. The inaugural is generally the time to say the campaign is over, but Trump is proving to his supporters that he’s still the same man as he was in the campaign. This is not the usual defense of the Constitution, but a speech about him and the people, that special personal relationship he has built with his supporters.”
Trump has never been a traditional or eloquent orator, and he sometimes scoffed at those who crafted their speeches with artisanal care. He boasted about writing his books on the fly, talking them through with his ghostwriters, believing that plain, punchy language and simple ideas were the best way to build his brand and connect with his audience.
He has always considered himself as much a showman as a businessman, and he inherited his mother’s passion for pageantry and pomp. He believes that straight, plain talk is the best way to cut through popular skepticism about authority and institutions in a troubled era.
Trump made no reference to his party, Congress, or any other means by which he expects to accomplish the sweeping change he promised. Instead, he once again promised that he personally will deliver a national restoration: “I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down,” he said. “America will start winning again, winning like never before.”
“There weren’t any memorable, bumper sticker lines,” Shirley said. “Eloquence and statesmanship were not what he was going for. This is a break with the past, including with the Republican party and its ideals.”
Trump had said he was modeling his address after his favorites: Kennedy’s short, stirring call in 1961 for Americans to join in common pursuit to “explore the stars, conquer the deserts . and encourage the arts and commerce,” and Reagan’s gracious but blunt 1981 speech, perhaps the first inaugural oration to include a moving anecdote about an ordinary American.
Kennedy reached in nearly every paragraph for poetry and posterity. He hit time-honored themes of unity (“Divided, there is little we can do”) and change (“the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,”) but he also went big from the start, challenging the nation to confront the horrifying prospect of nuclear annihilation and to contemplate the possibility of eliminating human poverty.
Reagan’s first inaugural is remembered mainly for its tone-setting catchphrase, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But Reagan’s full speech was a masterful blend of velvet and hammer: A frank critique of the nation’s malaise, “an economic affliction of great proportions” but also a warning that “progress may be slow – measured in inches and feet, not miles.”
Trump offered no such cautions. He promised to “eradicate completely from the face of the earth. . radical Islamic terrorism,” and he repeatedly swore allegiance to Charles Lindbergh’s “America First” theme, stating that he will “follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”
“This was a speech dedicated almost only to people who voted for him,” Lim said.

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