Critic's Notebook: In Inaugural Address, Donald Trump Delivers Bombast, Divisiveness and Nationalism

The new president delivered an address that sounded like one of his campaign speeches on steroids.

Proving once and for all that the nation hasn’t been suffering from a collective 18-month-long fever dream or bad acid trip, Donald J. Trump was sworn in Friday as the 45th president of the United States.

So that happened.

Even Trump supporters would probably admit that the whole thing was a surreal spectacle. Taking the oath was a man whose chief qualification for the highest office in the land was having fired celebrities on a reality television show. What once seemed like absurd satire has now become sobering reality.

Rain began falling just as President Trump (there, I’ve written it, and my keyboard didn’t even catch fire) began his inaugural address. The precipitation could have been, as the Rev. Franklin Graham described it afterwards, “a sign of God’s blessing.” But for the majority of Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, it seemed more like existential tears.

The event began with the ceremonial procession of the key figures involved. They included a scowling Trump, who looked like he was marching to his own funeral; Hillary Clinton, who had already been to hers; and George W. Bush, who as usual seemed to be having more fun than anyone else.

Senator Roy Blunt began the proceedings with a history lesson about presidential transitions, which was helpful since Trump was probably learning about the subject for the first time. A trio of religious leaders offered prayers, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, representing Trump’s hometown; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who somehow resisted the opportunity to chastise Trump for not appointing any Hispanics to his cabinet; and Paula White, who serves as Trump’s “spiritual advisor” because, you know, she’s on TV.

Senator Chuck Schumer, who will be devoting the next several years of his life to opposing Trump at every turn, apparently wanted to beat the newly elected president at his own game by delivering an apocalyptic vision about how “we live in a challenging and tumultuous time.” His entire speech was a rebuke of Trump’s ethos, stressing a commitment to “core democratic principles,” although he coyly refrained from adding, “with a capital D.” He also read an excerpt from a letter written by a Civil War soldier that was meant to be inspiring, but only served to remind us that we may be on the brink of one.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath of office to Mike Pence, which was historic because it may be the first time anyone has actually heard Thomas’ voice. Chief Justice John Roberts then did the same thing for Trump, whose hand was placed over both the Lincoln bible and his own family bible. The latter, needless to say, didn’t show any sign of being dog-eared.

To say that Trump’s campaign speech — excuse me, inaugural address — was not exactly gracious in victory is an understatement. Bombastic and wholly populist, it presented an alternate, bizarro world vision of a country falling apart, even as the man who led it for the last eight years was sitting, stone-faced, a mere few feet away.

Decrying a government that had been run for the benefit of “the establishment” rather than “the people,” Trump declared, “That all changes, starting right here and right now!”

“This moment belongs to you!” he told the crowd, informing them that this was “the day the people become the rulers of the nation again!”

“The forgotten men and women of this country will be forgotten no longer!” he thundered, serving red meat to his red state followers. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land!”

From his description of “American carnage” to his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth” (good luck with that), it was an address whose only punctuation was exclamation points. It was, essentially, his campaign speech on steroids, with not a word of praise for his predecessor in the office or his opponent in the election. Watching the expressionless faces of Barack, Michelle, Bill and Hillary made you desperately wish for thought bubbles to pop up, although it really wasn’t hard to guess what any of them was thinking.

“There should be no fear!” Trump assured us, even as anti-anxiety pills were being popped from coast to coast. He promised that we would feel “a new national pride,” which was good news because we’ve certainly lost the old one.

“America will start winning again, like never before!” he proclaimed, adding that we will now live by two simple rules — “Buy American and hire American!” It was all nationalistic and jingoistic, culminating in his trademark phrase “America first!” So much for not asking what our country can do for us, but for what we can do for our country.

For additional perspectives, Death and Taxes spells out how President Trump's inaugural address is one of the most 'morbid' in modern-day presidential inaugurations, and Billboard compiled reactions to President Trump's inaugural address from music stars.