President Trump’s extraordinary Inaugural Address was at once familiar and surprising, combining echoes from a forgotten past with notes that are entirely new.
The echoes were to a president who was viewed with as much alarm by the official Washington of his day as Mr. Trump is by today’s Washington. In his first Inaugural Address, President Andrew Jackson told a shocked capital city that the 1828 election that brought him to office “inscribes on the list of executive duties, in characters too legible to be overlooked, the task of ‘reform.’” Today, in language that was even more blunt, Mr. Trump delivered a curse-on-both-your-houses indictment directed at the nation’s political and economic establishments.
In advocating reform, President Trump abandoned sectarianism. From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Bernie Sanders, Democrats have blamed the nation’s ills on “millionaires and billionaires.” Meanwhile, Republicans have denounced big government.
Mr. Trump took aim at both establishments as a single, colluding entity that, he charged, has served its own interest to the detriment of the middle class. The result has been an “American carnage” of lost industry, jobs and opportunity. In response, the new president announced that, under him, America will come first.
“We will bring back our jobs,” he said. “We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth.”
Add it all up and the Trump inaugural was the most Jacksonian since Jackson.
Some of the speech’s strongest passages were devoted to American unity — in particular to transcending racial and ethnic divides that have plagued the country with renewed bitterness over the past two decades. Mr. Trump’s liberal critics should take a close look at these passages.
As he had in the campaign, the new president spoke directly to the largely African-American and Hispanic citizens of our urban areas. He addressed inner city concerns: “Mothers and children trapped in poverty”; “rusted-out factories”; “an education system, flush with cash, but that leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge”; “gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives.” In one especially lyrical passage, he said, “Whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator.”
He invoked a common devotion to the country (“whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the red blood of patriots”) that combined with economic, educational and public safety improvements could open a new world of opportunity for our minority communities, removing barriers to racial amity.
It is a remarkable agenda. Not that everyone will applaud. For example, our allies overseas and much of our foreign policy community at home will fear Mr. Trump’s plans to abandon the mantle of global leadership. But as was true throughout his campaign, a close look at his language points a different way. He is not advocating abandonment of alliances and responsibilities, but, as on the domestic scene, a new era of reform.
It is a new era of reform on behalf of ordinary citizens not defined by race or ethnicity, or gender or preference, or party or ballot cast in November, but by a sense that something has gone wrong, and that what is wrong can be fixed. It was a strong, direct, honest speech. A presidency that comes at a time of national troubles has had a promising start.