The message conveyed from Washington by Donald Trump, in his inaugural address as president, was similar to his stump speeches during his campaign, when he struck a chord with crowds of supporters by emphasizing a theme that America was in trouble and needed to be made “great again.” The pageantry and inspiration of a presidential inauguration are themselves inspiring, and the pressure for a new president to turn memorable phrases and inspire the country is tremendous.
While President Trump was somewhat more somber and serious than bombastic candidate Trump, his “America first” theme could be seen as troubling, particularly by foreign allies. “America First,” after all, was the name of an organization that vehemently opposed America’s intervention in World War II.
At an inauguration, a new president is presented with the best opportunity to unify the country. There is no question that Trump’s campaign tapped into an anger and discontent on the part of some Americans who felt disengaged from their government. In his address, Trump spoke to those supporters most of all, saying he would not allow the government, as he said it had, to “defend other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own.” He drew response when he said, “This is your country!”
He said Friday was “the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
These may be good themes for a campaign, but are they the best choices for Trump, whose campaign traded on division and discontent and anger? The president might have made a more constructive move toward unity by acknowledging that as president, he must embrace as well those who opposed him.
This much is certain: Trump will soon understand what all new presidents find to be true. Governing is far different and more complicated than campaigning, and though Trump was harshly critical of “Washington” in his address, an effective president must navigate all the corridors of power. The individuals he’ll need most in advancing any agenda are those Republican leaders in Congress who are very much a part of the “Washington” President Trump likes to attack.
Americans, those who supported Trump and those who did not, must of course have hope during the early days of his administration and throughout his term that campaign rhetoric will diminish as the president realizes the grave nature of his responsibilities, the difficulty of keeping political promises, and the challenge, and duty, of serving all Americans, not just those who cheered the loudest.