Before Donald Trump’s inaugural address Friday, the key question was what tone he would choose to launch his presidency.
Which Trump would it be: the slash-and-burn populist of his presidential campaign, or the calmer, almost statesmanlike winner who called for national unity on election night?
The answer came quickly: President Trump is Populist Trump.
The core of the speech was a blistering attack on the political establishment of both parties for “prospering [while] the factories closed,” an attack on foreign countries for “stealing” American jobs, and a blunt promise: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
In its dark portrayal of a dysfunctional nation gripped by unemployment, poverty and crime, the address echoed the angry speech Trump gave at the Republican National Convention — the one that proclaimed: “I alone can fix it.”
In its call for a populist movement built around assertive nationalism and trade protectionism, it reflected favorite themes of Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief of the Breitbart media organization who is now Trump’s chief ideologist.
There were a few nods to national unity. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” the newly inaugurated president said. “Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriotism.”
But those were merely grace notes, and they were scarce.
More typical was this:
“The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world .... We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
And this: “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost …. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.”
As he spoke, Trump was surrounded by leaders of the very establishment he was denouncing: not only Democrats, who knew already that they lost the last election, but also Republicans, who are beginning to wonder about their future, too.
Give Trump this: His message was clear. All those things he said during the campaign? He may not stand by every detail, but on the core of his message, he meant every word.
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