JAN. 21, 2017 — Most of those who liked Donald Trump’s inaugural speech Friday probably voted for him. And many others, if they bothered to pay attention, surely came away feeling sour. That’s not a reflection of President Trump as an especially divisive figure. That’s politics in an especially divided nation. All of us recall similar fissures after the inaugurations of Presidents George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008.
Trump’s address, delivered from a teleprompter, was authentic to his populist, outsider candidacy. He repeated his campaign promise to “make America great again” and said in more than one way that the watch phrase of his presidency will be “America first.”
This may be remembered as the “forgotten man” speech for the attention Trump devoted to Americans who are struggling economically. Many of them translated their own frustration — and their sense of feeling ignored by career politicians — into support for Trump. They gave him the presidency. His inaugural speech confirmed that he intends to double down on this priority.
How will Trump translate that commitment into policy? Here was his most specific reference in a speech that was, of course, not intended to lay out a specific agenda: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” he said. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Those are tough words, exaggerated for effect but also off the mark in targeting America’s relationship with the rest of the world as the primary source of domestic economic woes. Is America suffering the “ravages” of other countries in the global economy? No. America’s prosperity and future promise are directly tied to the ability to sell our goods and grain to the world, and purchase the best the world has to offer. He’s wrong on trade, and we expect that he will come around to the idea that pushing for “fair trade” is smart while pulling back on trade is self-defeating.
Yet the best of what Trump said, and the best of what he has to offer the country, was contained in that same passage: his energetic focus on building the economy. He’s right to say that America is not firing on enough cylinders. Nearly eight years after the end of the Great Recession in June 2009, growth remains slow. Too many Americans who want to work can’t find decent jobs or have fled the workforce. The answer to those challenges is to look for ways to unleash America’s potential — through tax reform, reduced regulation and other means. Cheerleading has its place too.
“We will get the job done,” Trump said.
We hope he does.