Trump starts presidency with fighting speech in a country divided

Donald Trump waves as he arrives to be inaugurated during ceremonies on the Capitol in Washington, Jan 20, 2017.
Donald Trump waves as he arrives to be inaugurated during ceremonies on the Capitol in Washington, Jan 20, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - In his inaugural speech delivered under a rainy sky on the steps of the US Capitol, Donald John Trump, 45th President of the United States, pledged to revive a country he painted as shattered by job losses, with a failing school system, failing infrastructure, and misguided foreign policy.

Though he read from a teleprompter, it was still vintage Donald Trump.

While heavily-armed riot police and anti-Trump protesters clashed in the streets a few blocks away, President Trump - minutes after being sworn in - pledged "a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people."

He remained in combative mode, playing to his gallery of supporters who turned up in tens of thousands, many flying in from far corners of the country, saying "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."

He lashed out at the capital's political elites - many of whom were seated around him.

"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."

"This was one more campaign speech. He said the same things, but he was even less specific," author and professor of history at the University of Texas in Austin Henry W. Brands, told The Straits Times.

"He was somewhat more inclusive in his language than during the campaign, when he talked of American soldiers whether black or brown or white, all bleeding the same red blood of patriots and saluting the American Flag, but that was as far as it got."

"It could have been a political calculation, that those protesting his presidency would be unmoved whatever he said," Professor Brands added. "Trump knows who sent him to the White House, so he reached out to that base."

His supporters at the Capitol and on the National Mall cheered as he ended his speech with the familiar "Together, we will make America great again".

One woman, housewife Claudia Schuster, 65, who had flown to the capital from Indiana - Vice-President Mike Pence's home state - told The Straits Times: "We are over the top, totally blessed. We the people are just desperate and god answered our prayer."

But boos earlier when Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer spoke, cries of "not my president" from a protester in the crowd, and the running battles between police and protesters in downtown Washington DC, made it clear that the country's deep and bitter divide is nowhere close to healing.

 

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On foreign policy, President Trump said "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."

"We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow. We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones - and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth."

Mr Trump has said that his list of priorities include repealing and replacing his predecessor's signature healthcare law; reopening negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta); and clamping down on illegal immigration. He has also indicated that he plans to hike tariffs on imports from China and Mexico.

The 70-year-old assumes office with Republicans in control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in 10 years. Yet he remains a leader that is coming into office with the lowest approval rating of any president in America's modern history, having lost the popular vote to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Many believe his biggest challenge in the coming months will be reuniting a divided country, but there were no olive branches in his inaugural speech.