Whatever else one may think of it, Donald Trump’s inaugural address was relatively free of clichés. It was also short on ideology. While hitting the bipartisan Washington establishment hard, the new president voiced a largely non-ideological anger.
“Liberals” and “progressives” who don’t understand this should be prepared for an especially frustrating four, or more, years. They’re used to Republican presidents who are much less aggressive and, in the case of Ronald Reagan and to a lesser extent George W. Bush, speak more in terms of principles and ideas. Trump focused on the people, on the terribly shortchanged condition of America as he sees it. It was in this spirit, I think, that he didn’t go into detail about the failures of our ruling elite. His address was about practical results going forward, which, if achieved, will be popular among the public. Again, if the Left doesn’t perceive this aspect of President Trump because they’re so angry about his objectives or even his tactics, it will be harder for them fight him.
Many must have found it hard or impossible to watch the events of January 20, preferring to take comfort in the Women’s March the next day. Those who did see enough of Inauguration Day, however, should have noticed Trump's respectful, even friendly, interactions with President Obama and other political enemies. My own takeaway, from this and other evidence, is that Trump is quite capable of avoiding unacceptable rudeness—and also that he gets an extremely important point which many people, on both sides, would do well to accept in their own political interactions: that he is dealing with real human beings, that opponents can be “deplorable” without being always and only deplorable.
I am in no way naïve about Donald Trump, having opposed his nomination. It’s undeniable, for example, that he can be blatantly mean, crude, and heedless of facts or of things that people outside the most intense part of his political following reasonably presume to be true. If only those on the Left who hate or greatly fear him would be half as vigilant about such failings among their own leaders, which they are not. These leaders are often arrogant and nasty enough to deserve what Trump dishes out to them. Whether his own exaggerations are sloppy or cynical, however, he should drop them (except perhaps the harmless, often desirable, “America will be greater than ever” or “You'll get tired of winning” kind of thing, which sounds stupid to many of us, but was probably no small part of his appeal to voters). He should not continue to claim a landslide in the Electoral College, which just isn't true by historical standards. Nor should he keep saying that illegal immigrants are responsible for Hillary Clinton's winning the popular vote, which is unlikely and unprovable. And those are just the simplest instances.
Whether the mainstream media Trump likes to bash are, on the whole, his enemies is a difficult question, since the term “enemies” has various meanings. But certainly they are biased against him, and often unprofessional in other respects that happen to help the Left, and thus a problem for him and his agenda. Trump should speak of them as merely that: a problem. Few people among the millions of Americans whose support he wants, and doesn't yet have, would disagree if he simply characterized the media in that way. Privately, many journalists would have to agree.
In his second major speech as president, whenever that may be, Trump might be well-advised to lean toward these partial conciliations—having planted his flag effectively in a refreshing inaugural address.
***David Frisk is a Resident Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute. The opinions in this piece are his own, not the AHI’s.