President Donald Trump, in his inaugural address, revisited the themes of his presidential campaign, describing an America in economic and social decline. The country, he said, is being “ravaged” from without by foreign competition and faces “carnage” within as a result of self-dealing politicians, failing schools and “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
In his relatively brief remarks, given just moments after he took the oath of office on the steps of the US Capitol, Trump described a nation of “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” and “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.”
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As he did for nearly a year and a half on the campaign trail, Trump outlined his remedy: protectionist trade policies, massive spending on infrastructure, and a resurgence in patriotism. That last element, he suggested will bring Americans together in common purpose and help drive the country forward.
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other,” he said. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
Throughout his remarks, Trump returned to the idea that with his election, power was being returned to the people, at the expense of a corrupt elite who have used it to enrich themselves.
Almost immediately, he went on the attack against the Washington establishment, referring to “a small group in our nation's capital [that] has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”
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It was a marked departure from many past inaugural addresses, which have frequently urged citizens toward service and self-sacrifice. Exactly 56 years ago, delivering his inaugural address on the same steps where Trump stood Friday, John F. Kennedy urged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Speaking directly to those who supported him during the election, Trump outlined a very different way of thinking about the country and its relationship to the people.
He described his supporters as participants in a movement “the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
He continued, “At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.”
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And he left no question about where the government would get the resources to deliver on those promises -- not from hard work and self-sacrifice so much as by disengaging with the wider world.
In fact, the speech seemed to signal a major retrenchment in US foreign policy and did so in a tone that can hardly fail to make US allies, many of whom have come to rely on and expect military and economic support from Washington, very nervous.
The president said that for too long the US has “enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military” and “defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own.”
He spoke of “trillions” of dollars spent overseas to help other countries “while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” All the while, he added, “the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country have dissipated over the horizon” and “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.”
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The answer, he insisted, is a more inward-focused country:
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.
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. I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never ever let you down.
Other than promising to pry jobs away from other countries, Trump made little reference to the world beyond US borders, with the exception of a vow to “reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.”
Unsurprisingly, Trump ended his remarks with a promise to “make America great again,” echoing his campaign slogan. Apparently, he plans to do it on a much smaller stage than his predecessors.