Experts note new president bypassed ideology, focused on pragmatism over poetry.
President Donald Trump delivered a speech thick with criticism of the ruling elite Friday, and one that included many vows to the working men and women of the United States.
Trump promised things would change, and that the “forgotten” would be foremost in Washington’s goals.
“I think Trump sees poetic language and soaring rhetoric as a tool that has been used to take advantage of the people. The speech perfectly suited Trump’s philosophy of plain-talk populism.”
A chief takeaway of many from the speech was its lack of traditional GOP ideology. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan, also a Republican, said he could fix things, but made clear it was an over-aggressive government that was inhibiting progress.
Trump’s speech was about fixing the United States, and the economic problems Trump was focused like a laser on during the 2016 presidential election. In Trump’s mind, the elites and their Washington machinery are a bigger problem in delivering prosperity to the people than the size of government.
And Trump told them so in terms unlike other inauguration speeches.
“It was the clearest declaration of war against the establishment, Washington and the status quo we’ve seen since Reagan in 1981,” said Craig Shirley, Reagan biographer and presidential historian.
“There was little poetry like JFK and Reagan but he pulled no punches. The lack of oratory is a sign of the times, though. We’ve only had three really great speakers in the last fifty years: Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.”
Trump’s job, however, clearly was not to be an orator. One pundit got the impression that Trump would rather be a doer than an orator such as Rome’s Cicero, or perhaps his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
“Trump’s speech didn’t reach great levels of poetic rhetoric as Reagan’s did, but I think that was by design,” said Eddie Zipperer, an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Military College. “I think Trump sees poetic language and soaring rhetoric as a tool that has been used to take advantage of the people. The speech perfectly suited Trump’s philosophy of plain-talk populism: no rhetorical tricks, no double talk, no political correctness. Trump is more interested in accomplishing things than in talking about what he’ll accomplish.”
One Republican academic said he wanted to hear more about the Constitution and limited government.
“Little in the speech indicated any devotion to the cause of limited government,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California.
But Adriana Cohen, a columnist for the Boston Herald, said she heard a lot of substance.
“President Trump’s speech was classic Trump: populist, patriotic and muscular,” Cohen said. “He talked about returning the power to the people, putting the American worker first, eradicating radical Islam and creating prosperity for all. Trump aims to unify the country and lift all boats. No doubt America’s best days are ahead.”
One pundit said he hoped Trump wouldn’t be too isolationist in his goals.
“[Trump’s] presidency intends to repudiate the elite visions not only of liberal Democrats but the Republican establishment in Washington,” said Robert Kaufman, a public policy professor at Pepperdine University. “Through pledging to bolster old alliances and forge new ones, Trump vowed to put American interests narrowly understood foremost, embracing American exceptionalism but renouncing categorically America imposing its values on anyone. I hope he does not mean that in any and all circumstances, because that is just what we did on Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan — justly and effectively — after World War II.”
It’s not likely, though, that Trump seeks to start wars, only to finish any aggression aimed at the United States and its allies.
Trump ran consistently as a skeptic of war. And he focused on terrorism on the campaign trail.
Kaufman believes Trump is on the way to a new type of populism, combing strength, peace and economic prosperity.
“Trump’s vision of America first — or a revival of President Andrew Jackson’s version adapted to the conditions of the 21st century — bears little relation however to the disreputable isolationist version of Charles Lindbergh before World War II,” said Kaufman. “He vowed for example to defeat Islamist terrorism unconditionally. Trump also appealed not just to his core constituency of the forgotten men and women living outside the Beltway but to all Americans.”
It was a plea to be united that touched Kaufman and many others.
“[Trump] not only condemned prejudice of any variety, but emphasized that America is at its best — indeed, unstoppable — when we are united: all races, creeds, and colors,” Kaufman said.