Trump's speech delights supporters, dismays critics

He reassures followers by lashing out at elite but stops short of reaching out to opponents

In his inaugural speech on the steps of the United States Capitol, President Donald Trump pledged to revive a country he painted as an "American carnage" of job losses, a failing school system, inner city drugs and crime, decaying infrastructure and misguided foreign policy.

It was vintage Trump, playing to his gallery of supporters who turned up in their tens of thousands, many flying in from the far corners of the country.

It delighted them, but left critics no less bitter than they have been since the 70-year-old ran an abrasive, unconventional campaign and against the predictions of pundits, won the 2016 election.

In his address on Friday, Mr Trump did issue a call for unity. "When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice" he said. "We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable."

But with most of his speech geared towards playing to his own base, America's corrosive divide after a bitterly contested election seems set to persist.

Keeping his outsider status at the forefront, Mr Trump made no attempt to bridge the gap with his own party men or reach out across the aisle. He lashed out at the capital's political elite, even as many, including former presidents - Democrat and Republican - Mr Bill Clinton, Mr George W. Bush and Mr Jimmy Carter, sat right behind him.

"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.

"For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost," he said. "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth."

His address conspicuously ignored the Republican leadership in Congress whose help he will need to pursue his legislative agenda. Clashes may lie ahead because his views on issues like trade and foreign policy differ from his party's stand.

He made no overtures to the Democrats either, beyond thanking his predecessor Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, for their handling of the transition. Tensions have already risen, with Mr Trump signing orders to unwind Mr Obama's landmark healthcare law. About 60 House Democrats chose to boycott the event.

"What many Americans wanted was a conciliatory address couched in the language of hope and unity," said Mr Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Centre. "Instead, they got a stump speech from the campaign trail. While Mr Trump's supporters were euphoric and energetic, his opponents and many people around the US have been left with a disorienting sense of still not knowing where the new president will take their country."

The right-wing Breitbart News, whose former co-founder is now President Trump's chief strategist, called the inaugural address "one of the more unique and memorable in recent decades, with clear themes of populism, nationalism and unity".

Ms Deandra Smith, a 45-year-old public relations expert and a leading member of pro-Trump pastor Darrell Scott's church, told The Sunday Times: "President Trump's speech was brilliant. It focused on moving forward and moving on."

"He is standing firm on what he has been called to do," she said before heading off to one of the three celebratory gala balls on Friday night. "This is what most people don't understand because they are caught up in being offended."

Analysts say Mr Trump's biggest challenge may be to heal a divided country. His inauguration was marred by protests, which are due to continue across the country through the weekend.

History professor Henry W. Brands from the University of Texas at Austin told The Sunday Times Mr Trump had been "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," he said. "It could have been a political calculation, that those protesting his presidency would be unmoved whatever he said. Mr Trump knows who sent him to the White House, so he reached out to that base."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'Trump's speech delights supporters, dismays critics'. Print Edition | Subscribe