Donald Trump likes to think that he is perpetually breaking boundaries and setting records, and he surely did with his inauguration speech. It was the worst in generations, and perhaps the worst of all time.
It wasn’t just mediocre. It was stunningly, disconcertingly, dumbfoundingly bad. And bad in a deeply worrying way.
There was little that was unifying about it; little that was inspirational; little that spoke to the better angels of America, to transcendent American values or freedoms, or higher causes. Nor was there much by way of concrete causes, beyond a call for investments in American infrastructure.
Instead, Trump outlined an all-out nationalist, protectionist, and populist approach that, frankly, is incompatible with a nation that leads the free world.
But most distressingly, this speech was simply out of touch with reality. To hear Trump’s grim, pinched, dystopian vision, America isn’t a country that has seen a steadily strengthening recovery from a devastating recession, and now is finally experiencing real income growth. Instead, we are a nation still on its knees economically, a nation where the cities are besieged by crime and the schools are a disaster.
One quality unites well regarded presidents, no matter the party: a sense of graciousness. Think Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy.
It’s a quality a president needs if he or she is to transcend campaign divisions and engender some good will in those who opposed his election. Beyond a thank you to Barack and Michelle Obama, there was none of that in Trump’s speech. There was no mention of Hillary Clinton, who was gracious enough to attend, and no outreach to the majority who voted against him.
One hopes for the country’s sake that, as the gravity and reality of his responsibilities set in, Donald Trump will somehow rise to the occasion, and that, at 70, he is capable of such growth. But there was little evidence of that in his inauguration speech.