Skip to main content

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump dance at the Freedom Ball on January 20, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Trump will attend a series of balls to cap his Inauguration day.Kevin Dietsch

Donald Trump used his inaugural address as President of the United States to promise an end to what he termed the "American carnage" of abandoned factories and gang violence, accuse previous administrations of enriching themselves while ignoring people struggling economically, and vow to clamp down on the country's borders.

In a speech often used by presidents to establish their vision of the United States and how it fits on the global stage, Mr. Trump's was decidedly inward looking – marked by a pledge to follow an "only America first" vision that would roll back globalization in a bid to protect jobs from moving to other countries.

While there were questions in the runup to the event about whether Mr. Trump would strike a different tone as President, he doubled down on the nationalistic populism that fuelled his surprising ascent to the country's highest office.

Read more: Trump inauguration: a day of celebration and protest

Elizabeth Renzetti: On inauguration day, presidents always took the high road. Not Donald Trump

Adam Radwanski: Key moments from Trump's inaugural address, annotated

"We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon," he said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, as a light rain fell on the hundreds of thousands assembled along the National Mall. "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land: From this day forward, it's going to be only America first. America first."

During the campaign, Mr. Trump promised to either renegotiate or tear up free-trade deals, build a wall along the border with Mexico and ban Muslims from entering the country. Since his victory in November, he has threatened to impose a "big border tax" on companies that ship products into the United States.

And in his speech, Mr. Trump made clear he intends to rule as he ran.

"We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs," he said to roars of approval. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down. America will start winning again, winning like never before."

Even his promise to expand the country's infrastructure bore a nationalistic slant: "We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American," he said.

He strayed from his isolationist line on just one point in the address, when he vowed to "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism" and "eradicate" it.

There were a few signs of conciliation at the inauguration. Mr. Trump thanked outgoing president Barack Obama, who told him "good job" at the end of the address; he also sought out and shook hands with Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival in the bitter general election campaign, at the start of a luncheon after the ceremony. But for the most part, the deep divisions laid bare by Mr. Trump's run to the presidency were on full display.

Mr. Trump's supporters drowned out Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer with boos when the Democrat used his preinaugural speech to obliquely criticize Mr. Trump's anti-immigrant policies and his mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter.

"Whether we are immigrant or native-born. Whether we live with disabilities or do not. In wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held, yet fierce devotion to our country," Mr. Shumer said as the crowd jeered.

Some of Mr. Trump's supporters sported T-shirts reading "The witch is dead," in reference to Ms. Clinton. Others sang "Goodbye!" as outgoing first lady Michelle Obama arrived at the Capitol ahead of the inauguration.

Anti-Trump protesters, meanwhile, clashed with riot police along the route of the inaugural parade.

Mr. Trump enters office with historically low approval ratings for a new president – just 37 per cent, according to a Fox News poll. His detractors see in him a xenophobic authoritarian with a worrying admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

To Mr. Trump's supporters, however, he is an uncompromising straight-talker willing to confront harsh realities and restore a declining America.

"He tells the truth, he says it like we think it. We have people passing across the border and some are not good people. Let's be real here," said Beverly Minardi, 55, a Tampa, Fla., real estate agent who sported a "Trump-Pence" hat and an American flag scarf. "I've been for Trump from the start. I've been ridiculed, shamed, criticized and I don't care."

Casey Shattuck, a 55-year-old salesman for a medical-supply company in San Antonio, Tex., said the United States has been emasculated internationally during Mr. Obama's presidency, unable to bring order to the Middle East. "Everything Obama has touched has failed – Yemen, Iraq, Syria," he said. "America is finished with the polished politician who tells you everything you want to hear but is totally disingenuous."

Added his friend Stefan Kiesz, a 64-year-old cardiologist and associate professor of medicine, decked out in a red "Make America Great Again" ballcap, standing 100 metres back from Mr. Trump's platform: "Putin was using Obama's weakness throughout the last eight years. When he took Crimea, he was laughing at Obama."

Mr. Trump's background outside politics also appealed to Mr. Kiesz.

"He's a businessman and a no-nonsense guy. He didn't get into politics to get rich," he said.

The crowd gave Mr. Trump much of this sort of unbridled adulation. Before he emerged for the inauguration, in the silence after a brass band serenaded Mr. Obama with "Hail to the Chief" one final time, the Mall echoed with a mass chant of Mr. Trump's name.

Mr. Trump characterized his supporters as a movement of people long ignored by the government.

"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed," he said. "That all changes starting right here and right now. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

And he looked to burnish his image among supporters as his own man, willing to do whatever it takes.

"We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it," he said. "Now arrives the hour of action."

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe