Donald Trump's inaugural address is going to go down in history as one of the great ones.
I say this as a man with 59 years of public speaking experience and a Ph.D. in American history.
There have only been three inaugural addresses that have come down through the ages. The first was Lincoln's second inaugural, with the phrase: ". . . with malice towards none, with charity for all." The second was Franklin Roosevelt's first inaugural: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." The third was John Kennedy's: "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." These are legendary phrases.
But Trump's speech was different from any previous inaugural address. He spoke directly to his political base. He did not try to pull the country together in some kind of vague, pie-in-the-sky, common-ground political rhetoric. He threw down the gauntlet from the very beginning. Standing in front of the Capitol building, surrounded by former Presidents and politicians, he said that everything they had done in the past has been a way to extract power from the American people and to feather their own nests. This, of course, is exactly what they have done. Nobody had ever said this before in an inaugural address.
He made it clear that this is a turning point. Again, always in the past inaugural addresses have called for unity. He did not call for unity in general. He called for unity on his terms, governed by his agenda. He called for the transfer of power from the halls of Washington back to the people. The rhetoric was confrontational to a degree that I would not have expected.
Today's ceremony, however, has a very special meaning because 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, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.
For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore 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.
He took no prisoners. He offered no olive branch. He used the media to go directly to his political base. This was basically an extension of what he does on Twitter every day.
The media and the establishment have never dealt with anything like this before. Technologically, it could not have been done before 2004. Ideologically, no one wanted to do it. But he just did it.
This is populism, pure and simple. No populist has ever had the opportunity to deliver a populist inaugural address.
I think the inaugural address is going to bite him. He made promises that he will not be able to keep. The Washington political structure, let alone the Washington bureaucracy, will not let his promises come true. But at least in full public view, he announced them. He made it clear what he expects to be able to accomplish as President, and he promised not to betray the people -- his political base.
He is rich enough, and independent enough, and cantankerous enough that he may not get stuck in the swamps of political compromise. It sounds as though he has no intention of going along in order to get along. He recognizes that his election was like nothing in the history of the United States. He was a man with no experience whatsoever in politics, and he was elected President of the United States. Politically speaking, he doesn't owe anything to anybody. He comes into the office with no strings attached. This has never happened in American political history, and it is extremely rare historically, except in cases of conquering generals.
I don't know which phrase will get quoted in the future. But I'll tell you one that grabbed my attention: "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now." American carnage. He has it, exactly.
But this is more likely to stick: "From this moment on, it's going to be America First."
He is not the polished speaker that John Kennedy was. He does not have the hearts of the people in the way that Franklin Roosevelt did in the midst of the Great Depression. He is not the rhetorical master that Abraham Lincoln was. But more than any President I have ever heard or read at an inaugural, he laid out his agenda, showed how that agenda is a fundamental break from the political past, and promised his supporters that he would not betray them. The implication is obvious: previous Presidents have all betrayed them. And they have. Four of them were standing behind him when he said it. This was a breach of etiquette. I loved it.
No matter what happens in terms of the details of his administration, and no matter what happens to the economy as a result of central bank profligacy, Donald Trump delivered an inaugural address that is going to go down in history. His enemies will try to bury him in his own words. But that plays into his hands. They will have to use his own words to bury him. It's Catch-22 for the establishment.
Let the battle begin!