'He's already let America down': the reaction to Trump's first speech as president

The 45th president of a United States delivered his much-anticipated address moments after he took the oath of office. Here’s the verdict

Jill Abramson: The man does not seem capable of being magnanimous

Jill Abramson

His inaugural address sounded like any speech at a Trump rally. The scene was a campaign event writ large, with a massive cheering crowd of white people wearing “Make America Great Again” red caps. Like his tone as a candidate, the new president’s voice was angry and dripping with pessimism. Like his speech at the Republican convention, President Trump drew a dark picture of a country under siege from foreign trade competitors, Muslim terrorists and Washington insiders. There were no grace notes.

His base no doubt loved it. But there was no reassurance or olive branch extended to the majority of Americans who did not vote for him. While he named President Bill Clinton, there was no mention of his wife, the vanquished opponent. There were no good wishes extended to President George HW Bush or his wife, who were hospitalized, but did not endorse him. The man does not seem capable of being magnanimous.

Indeed, after calling the Obamas “magnificent,” he was then overtly rude to them, portraying a do-nothing Washington that had betrayed the people and enriched itself. Meanwhile, the unprepared billionaires who displayed their ignorance at hearings last week await confirmation to his cabinet. In a gratuitous slap that echoed his wild and crazy insult to Rep John Lewis on Twitter, he lambasted politicians, presumably all the Democrats on the reviewing stand behind him, who “complain” but fail to get things done.

And the biggest lie of all when the narcissist proclaimed, “I will never let you down.”

He already has.

Steven Thrasher: Dumbness and xenophobia were baked into Trump’s speech

Steven Thrasher

From the white bodies in the crowd, to the white faces of the performers, to the intended white audience for his words, Trump’s inauguration was a blatant moment of white reconciliation.

His excoriation of “welfare” and the “inner city,” his fear mongering about borders, his praise of “American hands and American labor:” it was all meant to stoke the excitement of the majority of white voters who supported him.

Like all projects of white supremacy, the inauguration was aided by exceptional black people who gave it legitimacy – like Justice Clarence Thomas, who used more words to swear in Mike Pence than he uses most years on the Supreme Court. In chastising politicians who are “all talk and no action,” Trump worked in a dig at John Lewis, a critical Black politician who questioned his legitimacy (and commendably didn’t attend).

Trump’s nods to lack of prejudice were insincere. His call that “when you open your heart to patriotism there is no room for prejudice” was sandwiched sentences stoking Islamophobia and praising the Christian Bible. And while the cliche that “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood” got a rousing cheer from the largely white crowd, it was followed by the lie that “we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms” regardless of race.

The dumbness and xenophobia baked into Trump’s speech weren’t surprising. Perhaps more alarming was seeing Democratic leaders from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton sitting there, silently, granting legitimacy to this idiotic ugliness.

Michael Paarlberg: It veered from religious pieties to dystopian hellscapes

Michael Paarlberg

Most of the world’s great strongmen give great speeches – should we be disappointed that ours does not? Trump’s inaugural address veered from religious pieties to dystopian hellscapes – “American carnage,” in his words – yet by the end, raising a clenched fist in defiance of the hated Washington elites he now commands, there could be little doubt of his authoritarian credentials. There was something reassuringly familiar in his decree that “the people will become the rulers of this nation again,” and his promise of a government “controlled by the people”.

“Every day, the people will rule more,” promised Hugo Chavez in 2011. “The people will be the ones who decide,” said Nicolás Maduro last year. Erdogan: “There is no power higher than the power of the people.” Generally, the greater the invocation of the people, the greater the president’s cronies will be fleecing the country. These are definitely not the people.

Trump has already brought more billionaires in to the Washington establishment than any other president, with a cabinet worth $14bn combined. These include CEOs and officials of the very banks that profited off of the immiseration of those ordinary Americans that Trump promises will rule again. There is much work, and much pillaging, to be done.

Jamie Weinstein: A conservative isn’t heading into the White House. A populist is

Jamie Weinstein

In case there was any doubt, Donald Trump’s inaugural made clear a conservative is not heading into the White House. A populist is.

“The people became the rulers of this nation again,” he promised the crowd, to the likely dismay of America’s founders who crafted the constitution in part to tame American populism.

Trump made it sound like he was not taking over a first world country with its share of problems that needed to be addressed, but a developing world basket case.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he promised, as if had just inherited the problems of Venezuela.

And then there was the rhetoric that could have been lifted from President John Kerry’s 2004 inaugural address, had the Secretary of State won a few thousand more votes in Ohio.

“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,” Trump pledged, seeming to indicate a desire to reduce America’s role in the world and perhaps end Pax Americana.

Trump’s inaugural address is unlikely to be long studied by students of political oratory. But what it made very clear, for good or for bad, is that the man entering the White House does not fit very well on the traditional right-left, conservative-liberal political axis we have become used to in American political life.


Jill Abramson, Steven W Thrasher Michael Paarlberg and Jamie Weinstein

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The honeymoon is already over for President Trump | Richard Wolffe
Shocking poll numbers tell of a uniquely difficult path for the new commander-in-chief. And that’s before the inevitable scandals start

Richard Wolffe

20, Jan, 2017 @3:58 PM

Article image
Trump's sexism is trickling down. Let's refuse to accept it | Jessica Valenti
We know that Hillary Clinton’s loss sent a sad message to young women – what about the signals young men have received from Trump’s win?

Jessica Valenti

19, Jan, 2017 @12:28 PM

Article image
What you need to know about Trump's first speech as president
Guardian US writers examine President Trump’s points on national security, the economy, climate change, health, justice, immigration and gender

Dominic Rushe, Lois Beckett, Spencer Ackerman, Jessica Glenza, Oliver Milman, Molly Redden and Oliver Laughland

20, Jan, 2017 @8:16 PM

Article image
The women's march heralds a renaissance of resistance | Eve Ensler
We are marching against Donald Trump, and to turn our fear and sorrow into power and imagination. Join us

Eve Ensler

21, Jan, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Girl Scout in me would never stand for Donald Trump | Jean Hannah Edelstein
An organization that instils courage, confidence and modern values in young American women should also be boycotting the president-elect’s inauguration

Jean Hannah Edelstein

18, Jan, 2017 @1:08 PM

Article image
14 ways to Trump-proof your life | Kate Aronoff
Don’t panic: you can take action, and make yourself safer. Here’s an incomplete list of tips and resources

Kate Aronoff

20, Jan, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
'I was looking at the next president of the United States': the verdict on Trump's speech
The Republican nominee delivered a polarising speech that covered crime, immigration, terrorism and trade. What should we make of it?

Lucia Graves, Jonathan Freedland, Steven W Thrasher and Richard Wolffe

22, Jul, 2016 @9:24 AM

Article image
Trump's lawless thuggery is corrupting justice in America | Robert Reich
Intimidating whistleblowers, politicizing law enforcement, protecting rogue military officers and criminal sheriffs - the pattern is depressingly clear

Robert Reich

05, Jan, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Trump's been paying politicians for years. Now, he's playing the voters | Richard Wolffe
Donations to Pam Bondi and Greg Abbott show that Trump’s ‘outsider’ status is pure fantasy. He stands at the apex of a system corrupted by money and power

Richard Wolffe

09, Sep, 2016 @4:01 PM

Article image
'You're fired!' America has already terminated Trump | Robert Reich
The Mueller report looms but the president is doomed anyway – no one who screws the people so blatantly can win re-election

Robert Reich

24, Feb, 2019 @6:00 AM