Donald John Trump — the developer from Queens, reality TV billionaire and part-time Palm Beach resident who had never held elected office before – joined the rarefied ranks of American presidents on Friday.
Then he promptly trashed the Washington ruling class he had just joined.
President Trump’s 15-minute inaugural address, drafted in part at his exclusive Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, was a blistering populist attack on America’s political establishment. Trump accused “a small group in our nation’s capital” of prospering at the expense of “the forgotten men and women of our country” and allowing an “American carnage.”
The speech had few of the rhetorical flourishes that have marked previous inaugural speeches by new presidents. It was a hit with the throngs of Trump fans that descended on the U.S. Capitol grounds and the Mall to witness, as Trump told them, a moment in history that belonged to them as much as to him.
“I thought it was on target of his campaign,” said Randy Sparks of Palm City, who owns a souvenir merchandising company. “He was on point of what the people who voted for him heard and expected him to talk about.”
Trump pledged to bring a fundamental change in the relationship between Americans and their government.
“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 American people,” Trump said from a stage on the west side of the Capitol that included congressional leaders and former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
The new president also pledged to alter America’s relationship with the rest of the world.
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it’s going to be America first,” declared Trump.
Attorney Peter Feaman of Boynton Beach, the Republican National Committeeman for Florida, applauded the speech from the Capitol’s grounds.
“He was Donald Trump and I don’t think he varied from his script, which was America first, including everybody … That speech was just the right tone,” Feaman said.
Trump is the first president to win the office without prior experience in government or the military. He is only the fifth president to win election despite losing the national popular vote. And he takes office with only a 40 percent favorable rating in a pre-inauguration Gallup poll.
Trump’s speech included a few nods toward uniting a divided nation.
“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” Trump said.
“We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable,” Trump said.
Those words weren’t enough for U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton.
“I came to the inauguration hoping for a unifying speech that would reach out to the majority of Americans who did not vote for the new President,” Deutch said. “I was sorely disappointed in his dark and divisive address that sounded more like an angry and overheated convention speech instead.”
Trump’s “America first” decree and “forgotten men and women” line figured prominently in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and in his speeches at the raucous campaign rallies that were a signature of his unconventional bid for president.
The crowd that carpeted the Capitol grounds Friday often had the feel of a campaign gathering. Many wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.
The Marine Band and two choirs gave the proceedings an air of official solemnity. But there were impatient chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” when Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., made remarks before Trump took the stage. And there were some boos and derisive laughter when Hillary Clinton was introduced and at least one audible cry of “Lock her up!” — a favorite chant of Trump supporters during the campaign.
But rank-and-file Trump supporters, like Sparks, said the unity message that Deutch and others sought will be taken care of if the economy improves under Trump.
“I believe that if he is successful economically in making America first, that all parties will come together,” said Sparks, who said he has “great optimism” about Trump’s presidency.
Palm Beach resident and longtime Trump friend Robin Bernstein, who attended the inauguration with her family, called Trump’s speech “so powerful, so resolute, strong…I think he spoke to everyone. I thought it was very unifying.”
Trump is the first Republican president in eight years, and his speech showed how much Trump’s GOP has changed on immigration, overseas military intervention and trade since George W. Bush was president.
“We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon,” Trump said.
Trump began his quest for the presidency in June 2015 by running against the Republican Party establishment. His clashes with the powers that be in the GOP were in some ways reminiscent of his 1980s arrival in Palm Beach, when the town’s old guard regarded Trump as a crass outsider.
Trump butted heads with the town of Palm Beach over his plans to turn Mar-a-Lago into a private club and on such issues as the height of a flagpole on its grounds and the appropriateness of a Trump coat of arms on its exterior walls. Trump eventually got most of what he wanted in his dealings with town — as he did in his bouts with the Republican establishment.
Trump is known for rubbing his victories in his opponents’ faces. But in his inauguration speech, at least, the 45th president made few mentions of himself and 20 references to “you” and “your.”
“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,” Trump said.
“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th, 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 said. “Everyone is listening to you now.”