WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s inaugural address was a lost opportunity to be conciliatory.
“We are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump said.
Asked Rep. Jan Schakowsky D-Ill., afterwards, “Trump’s populist speech promised to return power to the American people. Which people?”
That’s the essential question to ask as the Trump presidency takes shape.
Power is flowing to Washington for Republicans, not away from it. Republicans control the White House, Senate and the House.
In this new Trump era, it’s obvious Trump has power.
Power to do what?
That’s a hard question to answer. It always is. Governing this vast nation is hard, especially when “the people” don’t always agree.
Trump takes office following an unprecedented ugly and divisive campaign in which Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
Nonetheless, and you have to respect this: Trump, in an unprecedented campaign that turned politics upside down appealed to voters who felt angry and ignored.
Clinton attended the inauguration with husband former President Bill. In a Twitter post before heading to the Capitol, she said, “I’m here today to honor our democracy &its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its future.”
In a few words, she conveyed a thought bigger than herself — something Trump struggled to do. At times it was an echo of his equally pessimistic speech at the Republican National Convention.
White House Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway told CBS News that Trump “personally wrote” the 16-minute address.
“You’re going to hear a man of action, a man of resolve,” Conway said. “And in what we all know to be a divided country . . . I think that Donald Trump will lay down an important marker to try to unify the country and challenge all of us to follow his lead.”
Conway promised that the inaugural address would be “uplifting, aspirational, visionary.” It didn’t get there.
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When Trump said, “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now,” he was talking to his base.
Trump’s “you” is not we.
“You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” said Trump. No harm in a hat tip to the people who brought him to this dance. But this dance hall of a nation has millions more who did not back him and somehow, his address had to speak to them. It didn’t.
At this point in the speech, Trump raised the matter of crime, a central concern to Chicago. Trump has been throwing a spotlight on Chicago’s crime problems for months, in part, I always thought, because it is Obama’s adopted home town.
“Crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential,” he said. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
That’s a bold claim. That’s a promise that is measurable. We’ve been counseled not to take Trump literally, so I don’t expect now to be “now”tomorrow or the day or month after.
But in Chicago, where lives have been lost, President Trump, if you have solutions, you should let them be known. The sooner the better.
While Trump catered to his base, and missed a chance to appeal for unity, he did restrain himself.
Trump did not egg on his base with talk about building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and making Mexico pay for it. Actually, immigration, one of his signature issues, got scant mention.
Perhaps because Obama was sitting a few feet from him, Trump did not talk about his eagerness to dismantle Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Many House Democrats, including Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., were wearing blue buttons that said #ProtectOurCare,” a protest against repealing Obamacare, which could come early in Trump’s tenure – without a replacement in place.
Trump said, “We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again,” a jab at Obama, who is handing off to Trump a U.S. economy that is in far better shape than when he got it in 2009.
Somehow, Trump is assuring us that a “A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions.”
Of course he ended with his signature, “we will make America great again.”
It always was great. Let’s see if Trump can make it greater.