Trump Inauguration: In Fiery Speech, POTUS Doubles Down on Populist Promises

January 20, 2017, 11:41 PM UTC
Photograph by Getty Images

Donald Trump’s fiery inaugural address etched into the history books the aggrieved populism that fueled his unlikely rise to power.

Moments after taking the oath of office to become the 45th president of the United States, Trump pledged action, swift and blunt, to reverse what he described as a decades-long drift from the nation’s former glory. And the address, clocking in at a brisk 16 minutes, had a staccato rhythm that itself suggested kinetic energy. “The time for empty talk is over,” he said. “Now arrives the hour for action.”

In fact, the hour of action will have to wait until Monday. Aside from an issuing an executive order reversing an Obama directive on mortgage insurance rates, formally nominating his cabinet picks, and signing a waiver for his Defense Secretary, Trump took the afternoon off to participate in the pageantry of the inauguration. Later Friday evening, he signed an order that could allow federal agencies to stop enforcing penalties for noncompliance with Obamacare’s individual mandate, though it’s impact is uncertain.

It’s far too soon, of course, to draw firm conclusions about how he intends to translate his campaign rhetoric into a governing agenda. But his speech points to ways the two look primed to diverge.

The new president dwelled in his address on one of his favored campaign themes—his vision for making major investments in rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure. The United States, he said, has spent “trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.” He later added, “We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation.”


Such an initiative would scramble traditional partisan allegiances, drawing support from Congressional Democrats, who’ve agitated for years for new infrastructure spending, while alienating some conservative hardliners more concerned about deficits. And it would have sent a clear signal to Trump’s lunchbucket base that he’d put their interests above any fealty to old Republican orthodoxy. But the Trump transition hasn’t done much to lay the groundwork for such a push. Accordingly, expectations for a big public works program has waned considerably since the election, a sentiment now reflected in the markets.

Instead, Trump’s pre-presidency has been dominated by the debate within the Republican Party over the timeline for, and substance of, the plan to rip up the Affordable Care Act and replace it with some as-yet unknown alternative. Trump made no mention of healthcare in his Friday address. That may be because his promise on the trail to swap former President Obama’s signature legislative achievement for something “far better” is already turning to pulp in reality’s buzz saw. Any replacement will require significant trade-offs, and those with most currency among Republican lawmakers place a heavier burden on older, less-affluent white people who helped lift Trump to victory in November.

Trump’s presidency began today. The reckoning begins Monday.

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