If you still cannot understand why Trump won, you have only to compare his inauguration speech with that given by Obama when he first took office in 2009.
Obama is undoubtedly a fantastic orator, and his speeches were always eloquent, poetic, professionally written, carefully crafted and expertly delivered. Trump, on the other hand, writes his own speeches using plain, simple, direct language – his brash delivery endears him to his supporters and infuriates his critics who feel that somebody in his position should at the very least employ a speechwriter to ensure that the public persona he presents is worthy of the high office he holds.
But setting aside the differences in style, let’s examine the actual messages contained in the two speeches, as this is where the reasons for Trump’s victory become so apparent.
Thanking the outgoing president
2009 – Obama starts by thanking the outgoing president:
I thank President Bush for his service to our nation — as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
2017 – Trump does the same, but adds an extra personal touch
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but by adding the simple words “They have been magnificent” to what could have been a standard expression of thanks, Trump’s message appears more sincere; Obama’s thanks to Bush, by comparison, sound like a token message delivered out of obligation.
But it’s what comes next that truly sets the two speeches apart.
The situation in which we find ourselves
Obama embarks on a delivery that lets all Americans know that the nation is in the midst of a crisis, but fails to apportion blame and even implies that the blame lies with everybody, while reminding ordinary Americans that they have their founding fathers, their constitution, and the “skill or vision of those in high office” to thank for their survival. There is no acknowledgement of the gap between the rich and the poor – this is a classic “we’re all in this together” austerity speech, preparing everybody for tough times ahead while reminding them of who is in charge.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.
So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many — and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.
He then goes on to really hammer his message home, declaring an end to “petty grievances and false promises…. recriminations and worn-out dogmas….” and states that “the time has come to set aside childish things”. For those who may be feeling indignant that their concerns are being swept aside using words such as “petty”, “worn-out” and “childish” he then reminds them of the hardships their ancestors faced – in other words, “Stop complaining; you don’t know how lucky you are compared to those who came before you. And you certainly don’t know what real work is”
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops, and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip, and plowed the hard earth. For us, they fought and died in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
Trump, on the other hand, gets straight down to the business of reminding the public that this day is about them. And he does not hold back in acknowledging the inequality in society, and laying the blame squarely at the feet of the establishment.
Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because 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.
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.
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; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.
Trump wastes no time in reminding the people that he and his government are there to serve them
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now.
You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
He does not talk down to them, or try to dismiss their concerns, but acknowledges that their wishes for themselves and their families are perfectly just and reasonable.
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
And instead of invoking history to try to convince them that their reality is better than they perceive it to be, he acknowledges the very real problems of the present.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
Foreign Policy, Defence and Terrorism
The next notable difference between the two speeches is on the subjects of foreign policy, defence and terrorism. Obama’s speech makes it clear that he will not shy away from war in the defence of American ideals, and that he sees America’s role as a leader of the rest of the world. But on terrorism, his “you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you” sounds unconvincing and evokes promises of a long drawn-out battle.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man — a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience sake.
And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity. And we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken — you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
Trump, on the other hand, makes it clear that he does not wish to impose American values on the rest of the world, implying that he will not go to war in other parts of the world in an attempt to export democracy, as his predecessors have done. And on terrorism he is firm – his promise to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the Earth, while hyperbolic, will have been music to the ears of the many millions of ordinary citizens who see ISIS as a growing threat that the western world has thus far failed to get to grips with:
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 civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.
On multiculturalism, the differences in the two speeches are stark. Obama’s message is a classic liberal message of tolerance of all religions and cultures, and willingness to adapt to suit those cultures. He speaks of “patchwork heritage”, “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers” and talks of how America is “shaped by every language and culture”.
Trump, on the other hand, delivers a message which focuses on patriotism – “whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots”, but with the words “we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag” he is reminding everybody that those who choose to live in America can be expected to abide by American values. This will be music to the ears of those who feel their freedoms are being gradually eroded by the liberal unwillingness to stand up to the more traditional Islamic cultures, which do not respect the freedoms of other religions, or the rights of women and homosexuals.
Infrastructure and Technology
Both Obama and Trump talk about infrastructure and technology:
We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow.
We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.
Globalisation vs Protectionism
Finally, there is the issue of globalization vs protectionism. Obama talks about “the market” and its power to generate wealth, as well as “the reach of our prosperity” – in his pledge to assist poorer countries, he advocates the spreading of American wealth to those less wealthy in the rest of the world
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched. But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity, on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds
Trump, on the other hand, has a purely protectionist message – America First. Again, music to the ears of those who feel that their interests have been ignored as a result of globalisation and at the expense of foreign aid.
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military; we’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own; and spent trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
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. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
This was a classic populist speech – a promise to the electorate that henceforth, they will be listened to and their interests will come first. The promise “I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down”, while sounding simultaneously hyperbolic and trite to his detractors, will have resounded heavily with his supporters – is this not exactly what we should all want, and demand, from those who wish to enter public office?
Don’t get me wrong – throughout his campaign I was never in favour of Trump winning the presidency, and I’m still deeply skeptical as to whether he will be able to deliver on many of the promises he has made. But I’m in no doubt as to why he won – and if he can deliver on even half of those promises he could prove to be one of the most popular presidents in recent history. For the moment, all we can do is remain hopeful.