Trump Stays True to America First

Inaugural speech makes clear new president was serious about trade, immigration, foreign policy shift

Donald Trump officially began his presidency Friday the same way he campaigned for 18 months — with an unapologetic call for a sharp turn away from the status quo to an “America First” outlook.

Many people expected Trump to try to heal deep divisions from a brutal campaign and bring the country together. In a way, it was a unity speech, but not a traditional one in which politicians reach out to leaders of the other party. Aside from a few perfunctory words praising outgoing President Obama, Trump cast unity as a matter of taking sides with the American people against leaders who have failed them.

“Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

“Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” he said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

Trump suggested the time-honored peaceful transfer of power was more meaningful than those of the past. “We are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or one party to another — but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”

The speech lacked the laundry-list specificity of a State of the Union address or even mentions of individual proposals Trump made on the campaign trail. But the themes were familiar to anyone who followed the new president’s rise from the day he descended an escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy to a roomful of reporters who did not take his bid seriously.

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Trump made clear he meant it when he said he would change trade policies that have been the consensus view of presidents of both parties for decades. He telegraphed the sincerity of his calls to secure the border and — by implication — dramatically change the immigration system. He said he would rebuild roads, bridges, railways, and tunnels — and construct new ones.

And he suggested a new foreign policy, with an offer of friendship to all nations — but not at the price of sacrificing American interests. Trump hearkened to the tradition of George Washington, and implicitly said what he had explicitly declared on the campaign trail — that America under his leadership would avoid foreign entanglements.

“We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone but rather let it shine as an example,” he said.

The speech painted a far more pessimistic view of the current state of the country than Obama or his supporters believe to be the case. But it was optimistic in its view that the ship can be righted.

“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. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams.”

Liberals likely will recoil at the speech’s tone, but it was remarkably free of partisanship. Trump’s indictment of Washington applied as much to his fellow Republicans as it did to Democrats. He said the political class remained passive as “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape,” mothers and children became “trapped in poverty in our inner cities,” crime worsened and the education system — “flush with cash” — failed too many students.

“The Establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” he said. “Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

Trump said his focus would be on improving America, not other countries. He said millions of Americans have been left behind while wealth had been “ripped” from of the middle class and redistributed around the world.

“We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay,” he said.

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Despite the America First theme, Trump made several attempts to reassure skeptics that their worst fears about him are misplaced. He said America would “reinforce old alliances and form new ones,” a nod to people worried about Trump’s comments about the need to reform the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

He spoke to American greatness and the nation’s capacity to cure diseases, explore outer space, and develop the technologies of tomorrow.

The speech also had lines for people worried about the rights of minorities in Trump’s America.

“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” he said, later adding, “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

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PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].