On the 20th of January, Americans around the world sat in grim silence as Donald Trump, now the 45th President of the United States, took his oath of office. Despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million, he stood before that podium, placed his hand on Lincoln’s Bible, and swore an oath that he was in violation of. This charade was soon followed by Trump’s first speech as President.
The inaugural address is a defining moment of any presidency as it sets the tone for what is to come. Some of the most famous quotes from American politics come from inaugural addresses. At his first inauguration in 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the immortal phrase, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and, in his 1961 speech, Kennedy made his mark with “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Their addresses are considered to be among the greatest, and their presidencies followed suit.
Trump, on the other hand, left much to be desired. One of the primary goals of an inaugural address is to make a call for unity, both among the people of the nation and the parties of Congress, after a divisive election. This, he failed to do. Instead, President Trump chose to accuse, saying the establishment politicians and Washington insiders “reaped the rewards of government while the people have born the cost.” His words were so hypocritical, considering his business practices and cabinet picks, that I was actually insulted.
Not that his words weren’t true. I think, for the most part, and aside from an atypical ‘doom and gloom’ feel that is unusual for an inaugural speech, that he was fairly accurate, but therein lies the danger. A lie sprinkled with truth is much more dangerous, for it is believed more readily. In this case, as he laid out the guiding principles of his presidency, recognizing the valid concerns of the American citizen, concerns over safety and employment, should not over shadow the lie that we can solve those issues by turning inward.
President Trump’s phrase, “America first,” is a promise to return to an isolationism that has failed us in the past. Instead, we must look to join the international arena, not as a strong-arm outsider, but as a valuable member. Dangerous, also, was Trump’s continual assurances of loyalty and patriotism, as it would be an easy next step to say that anyone that disagrees with him is un-patriotic, a terrible accusation in America and one that was used too willingly in the Cold War.
To be fair, President Trump did a few things right. First, he kept it short. His speech clocks in just above fifteen minutes. Most Americans know the story of that one president (William Henry Harrison, if you’re wondering) who gave a two-hour inaugural speech, in bad weather, and contracted pneumonia. He died from it a month later. Trump also avoided referring to himself, instead using ‘we’ or ‘you’ as his pronouns of choice.
However, despite all this, the true test of any inaugural speech is always the presidency that follows it.
May god have mercy on our souls.