Inaugural address was ‘Classic Trump,’ with echoes of JFK, FDR
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President Donald J. Trump’s inaugural address drew inspiration from his classic campaign stump speeches, previous presidential inaugural addresses and — surprisingly for a man whose religious faith has not been prominent — from God.

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He spoke primarily to his loyal base, which was responsible for propelling him to the White House on his unexpected and unorthodox campaign. Despite offering up a limited vision of unity, he railed against the establishment and politicians — the group he is now a part of and will have to work with. Overall, the speech channeled the anger and darkness of his world view and that of his supporters.

 

Major portions of the address were Classic Trump from his campaign. He painted a dark portrait of the “carnage” of America, referring to the country’s poverty, joblessness, poor educational system and crime. He emphasized that his vision of “America first” will govern all of his decisions. It was strongly nationalistic and populist speech. “Every decision, on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

But more surprising than his speaking to his base of supporters, telling them that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” was Trump’s channeling of previous presidents from their inaugural addresses. The speech had strong images from of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

Roosevelt assumed the oath of office at the height of the Great Depression, when the economy really was in shambles and when the whole nation really was in despair and without hope. Against that backdrop, FDR famously declared that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Trump, after outlining his dark vision of America, declared that “there should be no fear” because the country is protected. Certainly not as poetic as Roosevelt’s inspiring words, but nevertheless a shout-out to the 32nd president’s inaugural address.

But it is Kennedy’s inaugural address that Trump shadowed more than any other.

Perhaps most striking is Trump’s borrowing of concepts about science and health. The new president declared that “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.” JFK spoke on a bitterly cold Inauguration Day in 1961 the following parallel language: “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.” Both Trump and Kennedy spoke about science, disease and commerce.

President Trump’s inaugural address had a surprisingly strong religious focus, in some measure a recognition of the evangelical voters who overwhelmingly supported him, and perhaps a somber and growing recognition of the awesome responsibilities he had just assumed.

After describing the hope for great schools, safe neighborhoods and good jobs, the new president declared that “these are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.” The use of “just” and “righteous” are distinctly religious words that resonate strongly with evangelical voters.

Trump quoted just once from the Bible in his inaugural, drawing on language from Psalm 133 as an appeal to national unity: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

He stated his confidence in the United States being protected from the dire threats both internal and external by asserting that the nation is protected, not only by the military and law enforcement but “by God.” It was an unusual comment by a man who hasn’t expressed a need for God or to be forgiven by God.

Trump acknowledged God as the creator of all life, whether it is the life of a child born in Detroit or on the plains of Nebraska. They all “fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”

And, of course, following the tradition began by Ronald Reagan, the president ended his address with the classic formula language for most inaugural addresses and campaign speeches: “God bless you. And God bless America.”

Even with the president’s dark vision of the state of the union and his strident “America first” rhetoric, he did make overtures to unity. “We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.” But more importantly, Trump recognized the deep divisions in the nation, laying out an optimistic vision for how the country should address its divisions: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

Perhaps the most heartfelt statement from the new president came as he took personal responsibility for changing America for the better, noting that he “will fight for you with every breath in my body — and I will never, ever let you down.”

The inaugural address was unique among inaugural addresses for its lack of soaring oratory and its reliance on campaign rhetoric. The inaugural address ended the campaign, and now the hard work of governing begins.

 

Mike Purdy is a presidential historian and the founder of PresidentialHistory.com. He is a frequent and popular speaker and is often quoted by the media about presidential history and politics, including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC, and others.


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