News analysis

The remarkable consistency of the unpredictable Trump

For months, his staff and aides suggested that a pivot was on the way - that the blustery, bombastic election candidate would soon give way to a more restrained, more "presidential" version.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning (Singapore time), in his first act as the 45th President of the United States, Mr Donald Trump made it clear that there is no other version.

The Donald Trump that everyone saw on the campaign trail is the Donald Trump people are going to get as president.

His first speech behind the presidential pulpit read like a campaign stump speech. The populist, nationalist undertones that ran through his election rallies all made an appearance. If not for the absence of the "lock her up" and "build the wall" chants, one might be forgiven for mistaking the presidential inauguration in the US capital for a Trump campaign rally in rural Wisconsin.

Despite recent strong remarks from world leaders in defence of globalisation, Mr Trump's speech suggests he intends to significantly change US global posture.

"Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs," he said.

"Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

While people may now have grown accustomed to Mr Trump talking about an "America First" policy, to hear the so-called leader of the free world equate protection to prosperity and strength was jaw-dropping.

And if some had harboured hopes that Mr Trump might use his inauguration to at least start bringing back together a bitterly divided nation, they would have been disappointed.

There was nothing akin to president John F. Kennedy's opening line proclaiming the day "not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom".

Mr Trump did not so much as acknowledge the presence of his vanquished opponent, Mrs Hillary Clinton, who was seated in the stands, waiting until the lower-profile luncheon after the inauguration to offer her praise.

This was a speech that was tailored to the supporters who swept him to power.

Despite standing on the steps of Congress, being surrounded by Congressmen, Mr Trump launched an attack on the Washington political establishment, effectively renewing his campaign promise to "drain the swamp".

"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, DC, and giving it back to you, the people. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs," he said.

Mr Trump also spoke about defending borders, eradicating terrorism and bringing back jobs.

And just like every speech he has given in the year and a half since he announced he was running for president, he ended his remarks with a pledge to make America great again.

In some ways, he also reminded observers of some of the reasons behind his election win in November last year. The speech was sharp and his message was simple, clear and constant. For all his apparent unpredictability, there has been a tremendous amount of consistency. The language may have been refined but the ideas have stayed the same.

What remains to be seen is what his relationship with Congress will look like and how that will affect his ability to push through his agenda.

We will also have to wait and see what the specific policy details will be.

But there should be little doubt now as to which direction he intends to take the US.

He's told us enough times.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'The remarkable consistency of the unpredictable Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe