Trump describes ‘American carnage’ in dark inauguration speech in which he vows to transfer power from political elites ‘back to you, the people’
President Donald Trump has set out a bleak portrayal of a nation under siege, vowing to end “American carnage” in an inaugural address that fired up his supporters but did little to ease the fears of American liberals or an anxious world.
Moments after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Trump described a country in crisis and pledged an isolationist and protectionist cure, declaring: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton looked stone-faced during the speech, while George W Bush at times appeared uncomfortable. But there were cheers from Trump’s supporters on a rainy National Mall in Washington. The crowd was largely white and notably smaller than for many past inaugurations.
Under the dome of the US Capitol, the billionaire businessman hailed the “historic movement” that swept him to a shock victory over Hillary Clinton in last November’s presidential election, claiming it was unique in world history. Citizens expect great education, safe neighbourhoods and good jobs, the 70-year-old continued.
“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It was a grim account of the most prosperous nation on earth from a man denounced by critics as an authoritarian populist. Trump’s aides had indicated that one of his inspirations for the speech was John F Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961. But there were closer echoes of a 1968 speech by Richard Nixon that described “cities enveloped in smoke and flame” and hearing “millions of Americans cry out in anguish”.
As America’s political elite looked on, Trump went on to blame past US governments for favouring other nations at the American people’s own expense, from the military to infrastructure to factories. “We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own,” he said.“But that is the past. And now, we are looking only to the future. 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.”
For some, the phrase “America first” has disquieting associations with a 1940s movement that aimed to keep America out of the second world war and came to be accused of antisemitism. But on Friday the crowd, many wearing “make America great again” baseball caps and other regalia, applauded and cheered.
Trump continued: “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.
“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before. 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.”
Breaking with Republican orthodoxy, Trump promised a massive infrastructure building programme including roads, bridges, airports and tunnels, potentially creating thousands of jobs and costing billions of dollars. “We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.”
Trump’s longshot candidacy has proved uniquely divisive ever since he launched it in June 2015 by denouncing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists. He also proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country and earned the support of white nationalists. His speech is unlikely to have assuaged the concerns of progressive activists who intend to march in protest on Saturday.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
Trump had said in advance he hoped to emulate Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address. And there were clear echoes in his blunt 16-minute address of Reagan’s creed that government is not the solution but rather the problem.
“Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you, the people,” Trump said.
“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.
“That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country.
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”
Trump lost no time in sitting down at the US Capitol to sign a waiver for his defence secretary nominee, James Mattis, as well as documents for his other cabinet nominations and a proclamation for a national day of patriotism. There was some light banter with leading Democrats over pens.
The physical transfer of power was mirrored online. A “top issues” section of the White House website moved priorities of the Obama administration – including civil rights, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal – to an archival website and replaced them with headings such as “America first energy plan”, “America first foreign policy,” “Bringing back jobs and growth” and “Making our military strong again”.