Analysis

Trump's Dark and Disturbing Inaugural Address Sends Troubling Message to World

American Jews are likely to be unsettled by the slogan he chose to declare not once, but twice in his speech.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

Anyone who expected Donald Trump to magically transform into a more introspective, thoughtful, philosophical man the moment he took the oath of office at his inauguration should be sorely disappointed.

When he took the podium to deliver his inaugural address, he didn’t pivot into anything different than the fiery, plain-speaking Donald Trump that appeared at his mass campaign rallies, despite the fact he wasn’t wearing a red baseball cap declaring, “Make America Great Again.” 

His message was anti-establishment even as he stood at the heart of the place he was criticizing. “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people,” he promised the crowd.

Donald Trump's inaugural speech. DONALD TRUMP SPEECHES & RALLIES via YouTube

Trump remained the same angry populist figure, promising that he would deliver jobs, prosperity, law and order to a country he described as being in “disrepair and decay” as other countries have “become rich.” 

His address struck the same dark tone as the lengthy speech he delivered when he received the Republican nomination in July. 

His America was a far cry from the optimistic vision Barack Obama has invoked in his speeches of a country moving forward during his presidency.

Instead, Trump described “children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation ... crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

He made a point of using the words “radical Islamic terror,” which he castigated Obama and his rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, for refusing to use, when he vowed to "reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.”

Every move he made, he promised, would be done only to benefit “American workers and American families.” And, as he had during his rallies, he used his favorite word, pledging that now that he is president “America will start winning again, winning like never before.”

Anyone watching Trump's address from overseas noticed the absence of any aspirations to world leadership or references to American exceptionalism. Trump seems to see the world as, first and foremost, a place of dog-eat-dog competition, and he said that under his administration “every decision” – including every decision on foreign affairs “will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

He said he would stand at the helm of a country that by its success would be an example to other nations – but not a leader, and not even, necessarily a partner.  

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” he said. “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.”

American Jews are likely to be unsettled by the slogan he chose to declare not once, but twice in his speech – "America First." There was controversy when Trump began using that slogan as his foreign policy mantra last spring. 

In April the Anti-Defamation League urged Trump to reconsider his use of the phrase, citing its "anti-Semitic use in the months before Pearl Harbor by a group of prominent Americans seeking to keep the nation out of World War II."

In 1940, the “America First Committee” led by Charles Lindbergh, "sympathized with the Nazis and whose rhetoric was characterized by anti-Semitism and offensive stereotypes, including assertions that Jews posed a threat to the U.S. because of their influence in motion pictures, radio, the press, and the government."

But Trump seems to have rejected any misgivings about its use, and judging from what we saw in his Inauguration address, we’re going to be hearing a lot of it over the next four years. Because if there’s any clear lesson that was learned from his first appearance as president of the United States it was this: Donald Trump doesn’t change.