What you need to know about Trump's first speech as president

Guardian US writers examine President Trump’s take on national security, the economy, climate change, healthcare, justice, immigration and gender

The economy

Donald Trump’s economic nationalism was on full display in his inauguration speech. The president spoke of the “American carnage” he claims has been wrought on America, leaving “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones” across a nation with “little to celebrate”, and blamed it on the outsourcing of US jobs. “America first” will be his presiding philosophy.

Those people left behind by the globalization and the deindustrialization of America helped elect Trump and they will be cheered by his message. But who benefitted from this transformation? According to a report published in December by University of California at Berkeley economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50% of adults has stagnated since 1980 at about $16,000 per adult while the average pre-tax income of the top 1% rose from $420,000 to about $1.3m. The wealthiest 1% now owns over 37% of household wealth, the bottom 50% – some 160 million people – owns a mere 0.1%.

A guide to Donald Trump’s potential cabinet of billionaires

Trump’s supporters can blame outside forces for their feelings of economic insecurity but it is people like Trump and his cabinet, set to be the richest in history, who have been the main beneficiary of the economic forces that have reshaped America. Trump’s supporters will have to trust them to work against their own interests if they want to Make America Great Again. Dominic Rushe


Trump continued to position himself as a “law and order” president, painting a stark image of a country ridden with “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential”.

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” he pledged.

Obama spent the past two and a half years trying to delicately push forward both gun control laws and a fraught debate over how to reduce police violence towards black Americans. He repeatedly emphasized the good work of most police officers, but also refused to dismiss the mistrust and frustration many black Americans feel towards law enforcement.

Trump, in contrast, has put himself and his administration squarely in the camp of police unions, who have literally turned their backs when leaders like New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio have decided to treat black American’s concerns about police brutality seriously.

Trump famously claimed during the campaign that Chicago police could stop the city’s sudden spike in gun violence “in one week” by “being very much tougher”. “Using tough police tactics,” was the key, he said, “which is OK when people are being killed”.

After years of record lows in murder and violent crime, the United States saw a troubling 10.8% uptick in murders in 2015 – the biggest single-year increase in decades, though one that left the number of murders roughly the same they had been in 2009.

Experts say it’s too soon to know how serious this increase might be – much less what has caused it. But Trump has selectively taken the worst statistics and waved them like a bloody flag.

The new president has made clear that he will take a tough-on-crime stance. despite the building bipartisan consensus that a less-punitive, less-costly criminal justice system is likely to make Americans safer. Lois Beckett

National security

Of all the striking moments in Donald Trump’s caustic inaugural address, few were more discordant than a president whose associates are under investigation for their connections to a foreign power using “America first” as a slogan.

The intelligence agencies that Trump has been feuding with since his electoral victory have concluded Russia interfered in the election for his benefit. They have sought a foreign-intelligence surveillance warrant to examine his associates’ connections to Russia and reportedly are combing through foreign communications and financial transaction records to that end. Additionally, the Senate intelligence committee has initiated an inquiry into the same subject, and has signaled its willingness to subpoena Trump aides.

The course of those inquiries will be the backdrop under which Trump conducts US foreign policy and stewards its national security.

In his address, which portrayed him as leading the nation out of an era of “American carnage” unleashed by parasitic elites, Trump beat a loud nationalist drum. Every foreign capital will soon learn, “it’s only going to be America first”, Trump said. His only sop to a universalist vision of America was to say that every nation has the right to similarly place their interests first.

Trump alluded to forging new alliances – a seeming reference to his oft-stated desire to bring the US closer to Russia – in order to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the earth.” While moments earlier, Trump lamented the loss of “trillions of dollars” through wasteful foreign conflicts, he set a rhetorical commitment to an expansive war against an undifferentiated adversary.

For years, the far right has argued that only a willingness to blame an amorphous concept called “radical Islam” – often conflated with Islam itself, and understood that way by millions of Muslims in the US and worldwide – can precipitate a victorious conclusion to the 9/11 era. They are about to have their test case in president Trump.

Trump’s inaugural speech in full

“It’s going to be America first” is a statement that conceals more than it reveals, particularly on national security.

While Trump offered few specifics, he criticized the US “subsidiz[ing] the armies of foreign countries while allowing the depletion of our own military”. That “subsidy” is the “by, with and through” approach to training foreign militaries that gave Barack Obama’s Pentagon an alternative to the ponderous ground warfare Trump first embraced in Iraq and then repudiated. Several of those armies, including Kurdish peshmerga irregulars, Iraqi soldiers, Syrian rebels and Libyan government forces – Muslims all – comprise the forces fighting the Islamic State across Mosul, on the approaches to Raqqa and in Sirte. An early test of Trump’s stewardship will come when he decides whether to revoke such subsidies or jettison his inaugural rhetoric. Spencer Ackerman


Trump was inaugurated with just a nod to one promise he campaigned on – making America’s healthcare great again.

Though Trump devoted portions of his dark speech to crime, trade, immigration, jobs and even gangs, his only reference to American’s struggles to afford their healthcare was a promise to “to free the Earth from the miseries of disease”.

However, if the new president is interested in fulfilling promises to listen to the American people made during his speech, he might take a second look at Congressional Republican’s plan to repeal Barack Obama’s signature health law, the Affordable Care Act.

Only 20% of the public wants Congress to repeal the ACA without a replacement in hand, according to a January Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Another 47% don’t want the law repealed at all, and a remaining 28% want a plan first. But, so far, Republicans have been coy with details.

Barack and Michelle Obama stand with President Trump and Melania Trump at the inauguration. Repealing Obama’s signature healthcare plan is high on the Republican agenda.
Barack and Michelle Obama stand with President Trump and Melania Trump at the inauguration. Repealing Obama’s signature healthcare plan is high on the Republican agenda. Photograph: POOL/Reuters

Trump’s speech did touch on one specific health problem: addiction. “The crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” said Trump. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

In fact, there is one significant reform that helped cover millions of Americans’ addiction treatment – the Affordable Care Act. Jessica Glenza


Unsurprisingly given its anonymity during the election, there was no mention of climate change or the environment in Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. He mentioned mountains and oceans, but only in context of locations in America that will be great again once he solves all of its maladies.

Trump did mention the US foolishly spending “trillions of dollars overseas” which partly references climate spending that the new president wants to axe. Barack Obama managed to push $500m out of the door for developing countries threatened by rising seas and droughts in his final week in office. Further assistance is now unlikely.

Most telling was what was happening off-stage. The White House website’s expansive section on climate change has now been deleted. In its stead is an “America first energy plan” in which Trump promises to scrap the “harmful and unnecessary” climate action plan. This move, as well as Trump’s speech, is a clear indication the president will simply ignore climate change, as if it does not exist, during his term. Oliver Milman


President Trump referred to border protection three times throughout his short inauguration speech, a sure sign of the emphasis he will place upon it as he attempts to enforce the draconian immigration reforms he pledged on the campaign trail.

“We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own,” Trump said.

Critics would argue the remark is patently false. The Obama administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any before it, and took significant measures to secure America’s southern border.

Now the majority of migrants crossing the southern border come from Central America, many of whom are women and children seeking asylum from violence and instability in the region.

Trump has also pledged to suspend America’s intake of Syrian refugees, who are already subjected to substantial security vetting before they enter the country, and it seems likely the president will move forward with this promise within the next few days.

Coupled with Trump’s infamous promise to erect a wall across the entire southern border, it remains unclear just how much damage he will do to some of the world’s most vulnerable people in the name of border defense. Oliver Laughland


Trump didn’t mention gender issues in his inaugural speech. But in the days leading up to his swearing-in, his transition team unveiled a plan to eliminate $480m in Violence Against Women grants and his nomination for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, refused to commit to upholding the Obama administration’s aggressive stance on campus sexual assault or the rights of trans students.

Republicans in Congress have moved swiftly to repeal Obamacare, which expanded contraception access and prohibited insurers from charging women more for health care, and to cut off Planned Parenthood’s participation in Medicaid. Molly Redden


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

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
White House website switches over to Trump's 'America-first' policy agenda
The Obama administration’s priorities of civil rights and climate change were replaced with ‘bringing back jobs and growth’ and ‘rebuild American military’

Jessica Glenza in New York and Julian Borger in Washington

20, Jan, 2017 @8:53 PM

Article image
The full text of Donald Trump's inauguration speech
The president spoke of ‘American carnage’ and painted a dark picture of the US, and calls for ‘total allegiance to the United States of America’

20, Jan, 2017 @6:01 PM

Article image
'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, Steven W Thrasher Michael Paarlberg and Jamie Weinstein

21, Jan, 2017 @9:50 AM

Article image
Donald Trump's team defends 'alternative facts' after widespread protests
After huge anti-Trump protests fill major US and world cities, president and key advisers push falsehoods about inauguration attendance

Jon Swaine

23, Jan, 2017 @10:25 AM

Article image
'American carnage': Donald Trump's vision casts shadow over day of pageantry
In Donald Trump’s first speech as US president, he offered a sinister view of the US: cities afflicted by crime, political elite in control and closed-down factories

Ed Pilkington in Washington

21, Jan, 2017 @9:46 AM

Article image
Six key things to know about Trump's border wall speech
Fact check: what the US president got wrong in his primetime address on the border wall

Amanda Holpuch in New York

09, Jan, 2019 @1:45 PM

Article image
Trump's first day ends with executive orders, then inaugural balls
President directs government agencies to ‘ease burden’ of Obamacare, then uses evening engagements to hit out at media and ‘people that weren’t so nice to me’

Ben Jacobs in Washington and Oliver Laughland in New York

21, Jan, 2017 @5:38 AM

Article image
Stoic Hillary Clinton looks on as former rival derides 'all talk no action' politics
The former secretary of state had a front row seat as Donald Trump, a man she defeated by 2.9m votes, took the oath of office

Amanda Holpuch in New York

20, Jan, 2017 @7:26 PM

Article image
President Trump's first day: climate deal and immigration could be initial targets
His repeated promise during the campaign to bring change to Washington means he will want to provide a spectacular display of strength right from the start

Ed Pilkington in New York

10, Nov, 2016 @7:17 PM

Article image
How the world reacted to Trump's inauguration as US president
Caution in China, sorrow and anger in Mexico, cork-popping in Moscow – here are some of the global responses to Friday’s power handover

Philip Oltermann, Kate Connolly, Tom Phillips, Wang Zhen, Nina Lakhani, Shaun Walker, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Alexandra Topping, Sofia Fischer, Peter Beaumont and agencies

21, Jan, 2017 @9:59 AM