Sometime last year — I think it was still during the primary — a Georgia politico told me that, if Donald Trump were to become president, he expected an inaugural address with a theme along these lines: “I am not a Republican, I am not a Democrat. I am one of you, the American people, and my loyalty is to you, not a political party.”
Trump wasn’t quite that explicit in his speech Friday after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. But he came a lot closer than many people — especially Republicans — might have guessed. Consider what he said just moments into the speech:
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government,” Trump said, “but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
This followed an extended exhortation against the establishment Trump ran against first in the GOP primary and eventually in the general election. If you think he was talking about only one party, or only the past eight years, you are mistaken:
“(T)oday, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people. For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. 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.”
Judging by what I’ve seen on social media, Democrats were more turned off by Trump’s speech than Republicans were. But Republicans, especially those in Congress, ought to recognize that he was putting them on notice as much as Democrats.
Beyond this anti-establishment rhetoric, I thought there were two other themes that capture what Trump will try to do in his presidency. One concerns America’s relationship with the world, which Trump said in the past has led to shuttered factories and trillions spent overseas rather than on maintaining our own 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. … 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.”
The other concerns Americans’ relationships with one another. For everyone who said Trump’s speech was divisive, or missed the opportunity to preach unity, go back and consider these segments:
“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. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”
“A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag. And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.”
Republicans have long struggled to find a way to bring racial and ethnic minorities into a bigger GOP tent without playing the identity politics Republicans so detest. I don’t know if Trump will be any more successful than others. But this indicates the way he will try to do it: Unity through patriotism, including economic patriotism, in opposition to the Washington elites and foreign nations.
React to Trump and Trumpism as you will, just don’t act surprised. He told us what he would do if elected, he told us again what he’s going to do now that he’s taken office, and all that’s left is to see if he can actually do it.