Donald John Trump swore the oath of office Friday as the 45th president of the United States, painting a bleak version of a country marked by “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” as he pledged to deliver prosperity to forgotten Americans.
Trump, one of the most polarizing figures to assume the office, delivered a brief, unusually combative inaugural address matching the nationalist and populist themes he sounded on the campaign trail. The Republican, whose inauguration was met with protests in Washington and around the country, blamed an establishment from both parties for enriching itself at the expense of an ignored underclass.
“Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another,” he told thousands of red-cap-waving supporters scattered across the National Mall.
“But we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.”
Trump, who won the presidency by smashing nearly every convention in politics, narrowed his eyes and gave a thumbs up to the crowd amid a light drizzle as he celebrated one of the most solemn and sober rituals in American democracy, a peaceful transfer of power that culminated with him ascending to an office that few thought was within his grasp.
His 16-minute speech — the shortest since President Carter’s inaugural in 1977 — lacked specific policy. In its place was a sense of anger at what he defined as a ruling class that has raided America for its own benefit. He talked of crime, gangs, drugs, poverty, jobs lost to foreign countries and a way of life destroyed by globalism.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” Trump said in a blunt, staccato cadence that marked a sharp departure from the soaring rhetoric of his predecessor, former President Obama. “We are one nation, and their pain is our pain, their dreams are our dreams and their success is our success.”
He promised to shift America’s focus inward, placing the country’s interests ahead of its global presence.
“We will 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,” Trump said.
After his inauguration, Trump began the job of president, signing routine papers to nominate candidates for Cabinet secretary positions and a waiver that allows his pick to lead the Pentagon, retired Gen. James N. Mattis, to serve despite a rule that typically bars recently active officers from holding the post. Mattis and Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, were confirmed quickly by the Senate later Friday.
Trump’s spokesman promised more vigorous action in the coming days.
Trump, in a red tie and black overcoat, made history on many levels as he was sworn in by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. At 70, he is the oldest president to begin a first term. The brash business mogul also became the only commander in chief to enter the White House with neither government nor military service. And while his predecessors included a screen actor and several war heroes, none became international celebrities in the era of reality television.
The gut-check moments along Trump’s journey — winning his first primary, the Republican nomination and the election itself — have not mellowed his disdain for tradition any more than Friday’s inauguration. His refusal to conform to political norms helped him attract millions of voters who felt disconnected from coastal power centers and eager to see a leader unafraid of offending people.
Trump’s inaugural address seemed targeted to those supporters.
“Jan. 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again,” Trump said. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now.”
Though no crowd count was announced, the audience was visibly smaller than the 1.8 million people who gathered to witness the nation’s first black president be sworn in eight years ago. Still, many who came on Friday had driven 10 or 20 hours from Texas, Florida, the Rust Belt and elsewhere to see a man they believed offered a starkly different kind of politics than his predecessors.
“It sounded like someone was speaking to us – finally,” said Pam Lazarites, 61. “I’m tired of hearing about the establishment – the government, the politicians.”
She and her husband, Ted, drove to Washington from Dayton, Ohio, to attend the inauguration, wearing matching red Trump hoodies. They stood near the back of the crowd, close to the Washington Monument.
Trump’s unconventional qualities, and a promise to bring back jobs lost to outsourcing and automation, helped him compile a historic electoral upset in which he dispatched 16 primary opponents and trampled both the Bush and Clinton family political dynasties. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent who attended the inauguration with husband Bill, looked on stoically as she dutifully made her way through the Capitol to watch Trump take the job she had long hoped would be hers.
The former rivals failed to shake hands as Trump walked to the stage to deliver his address, though Trump later greeted and thanked her during a congressional lunch at the Capitol after the swearing-in ceremony, prompting a standing ovation from politicians on both sides of the aisle. Some in the inaugural crowd Friday booed and chanted “Lock her up” when Clinton’s face showed on the jumbo screens, remnants of the campaign’s ugly tenor overflowing into an event that usually feels more celebratory and unifying.
Trump shared a fuller embrace with the man he was replacing, Obama, and a kiss with outgoing First Lady Michelle Obama. It could have been an awkward changing of the guard. Yet Trump thanked Obama, whose legacy he campaigned against and whose American birthplace he once questioned, for his graciousness. And Obama, who had said Trump was unfit for the job during the campaign, smiled through much of the transfer of power. Michelle Obama was less visibly comfortable, looking sideways as Trump spoke.
The new first lady, Melania Trump, offered a note of glamour beside her husband, wearing a powder-blue shift dress under a half-sleeved bolero-cut jacket pinned at the neck with matching long gloves, reminiscent of Jacqueline Kennedy.
Even without new laws or major executive actions, the new thrust of the White House was made clear. Old Twitter handles were quickly replaced and old photos of the Obama era were stripped from the walls of the West Wing in recent days. The crimson drapes in the Oval Office were replaced with gold curtains.
Trump’s top policy priorities were almost immediately affixed atop the White House website: a rollback of Obama’s efforts to fight climate change; a promise to rebuild the military, defeat Islamic State and create 25 million new jobs; lower taxes for corporations and individuals; a moratorium on regulations; and a promise to end certain trade deals.
Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by more than 2.8 million, and he has failed to build support from skeptics who see his presidency as divisive and even dangerous.
During the transition period, a time other modern presidents have used to mend wounds from bitter elections, Trump sparred with enemies and inflamed old divisions. He held victory rallies in states that helped win him the election and continued to criticize Clinton in public appearances weeks after she faded into the woods of New York for long walks.
Though his inaugural address tended to reinforce that division, he did embed a call for unity into his broader nationalist vision, promising that “through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” He also said during the congressional lunch that the two major political parties are made up of good people.
Yet Trump’s more persistent appeals to a lingering sense of grievance, combined with resentment from Democrats amid a period of polarization, has helped him secure an ignominious distinction. His approval rating is lower than that of any incoming president in decades, according to polls.
“He’s a bulldog. He calls people names. He has no kind of decency left in him,” said Beritu Haile-Selassie, a Washington resident who stood by herself on a traffic circle, holding up a cardboard sign that read “fake president.”
In addition to scattered protests throughout Washington on Inauguration Day, another wave of marchers were expected in the city Saturday to celebrate women’s rights and register disapproval of Trump.
Just 40% of Americans hold a favorable impression of Trump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week. That’s lower than the approval ratings for Presidents George W. Bush (62%), George H.W. Bush (65%), Obama (79%), Reagan (58%) and Carter (78%) before their inaugurations.
Yet those ratings demonstrate another truth: Popularity at the beginning of a term does not always correlate with future popularity. Carter and George H.W. Bush lasted just one term. And Reagan, whose lower approval numbers came closest to Trump’s, later became one of the most beloved presidents in history.