Trump’s inaugural: New tone, but the same goals

By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON — New President Donald Trump adopted a generally more civil and conciliatory tone in his inaugural address while doubling down on his campaign allegation that Washington politicians were out for themselves, a situation he said was going the change fast.

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump said. “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.”

“Politicians prospered,” he went on. “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. … And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”

He assured them: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.”

After reciting a catalogue of woes, from deindustrialization to urban crime and addiction, he vowed, “This American carnage stops right here and it stops right now.”

These words were aimed squarely at Trump’s voters in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio that gave him his Electoral College victory. But in targeting politicians in Washington, the message also dovetailed cleverly with his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” there.

In the same way, Trump argued for his outsider break from his Republican Party establishment, saying, “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” It was an observation, however, that may not have sat well with GOP members of Congress on whom his legislative agenda will depend.

Abandoning at least for this somber occasion his campaign menu of invective, insults and general disrespect toward women and minorities, Trump zeroed in on the central message of America First, vowing that his administration would focus on “two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”

He charged: “One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.”

Of the tradition of the peaceful transition of national power, its current beneficiary declared “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.”

The distinction was a direct nod to what he likes to call a “movement” of his own. Addressing “all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean,” he said, “You will never be ignored again.”

As for foreign policy, Trump chose to focus generally on his trade and immigration hot-button positions, complaining that American has “enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and subsidized “armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.”

Concerning fears in Europe over his disparagement of NATO and the European Union, Trump offered only that “we will 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.” Of the Russian hacking into the election that brought him to where he now was, he was uncharacteristically silent.

For all of Trump’s modulated tone, near the end he allowed himself what could be taken as a personal slap at Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights icon and survivor of the 1965 “Blood Sunday” march in Selma, who has declared Trump’s election “not legitimate” and who boycotted his inauguration.

The new president repeated words he used in a tweet attacking Lewis, saying, “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action — constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.” This slur seemed a clear hint that Trump’s otherwise moderate inauguration language was a one-time-only deviation from the incivility with which the country became all too familiar during his run for the lofty office he now occupies. As he himself might tweet: “Sad!”

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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