Donald Trump has announced he is fashioning his upcoming Inaugural Address to the speeches given by John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
Every President wants his address to remembered like John Kennedy’s. Few live up to the task because few 1. Spend the time to keep it short and 2. Spend the time to make the phrases and sentences that sound good even better with word choice. There are a lot of good sentences in each Inaugural Address. But gosh, this comes once in a century:
“The energy, the faith, the devotion, which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” John Kennedy, January 20, 1961.
That sentence, coupled with Kennedy’s closing benediction, “And so my fellow Americans, ask now what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country,” were not just words that sounded fine in the cold January air, making heads bob up and down. They were calls to service. Kennedy backed them up with real policy like the Peace Corps and a challenge to devote peaceful efforts to space and science.
Donald Trump would like to hit the high notes Kennedy reached, but he is most likely to mirror Ronald Reagan, who had the incredible opportunity to put many, many years of governmental distrust and hatred behind him with his own Inaugural Address on January 20, 1981. Reagan started off with a twist- his ceremony faced West- facing the country. Presidents before him had all faced East. It was a refreshing change, symbolic more than anything. But in a ceremony of symbols, it felt right. The country was turning from the past. Not our entire past, but the past of the last sixteen years- a past that included a stalemate in Vietnam leaving 52,000 dead, a crippled economy and a President who just couldn’t make sense of any of it.
Reagan started as only a few presidents have: with a gentlemanly nod towards his successor, James Earl Carter. Carter was sitting behind him on practically zero sleep in the previous 72 hours, working tirelessly for the release of the American hostages held captive by Iran.
Those hostages would be released as Reagan took the oath.
Carter may have appreciated the sentiment of Reagan’s second paragraph, grateful for one more round of applause on the world stage. But it did not last long. Reagan then launched into a diatribe against the current state of the nation, and how he would fix it.
In his 1989 Inaugural Address, President George H. W. Bush talked about “a new breeze is blowing, and a generation, refreshed by freedom, stands ready to push on.” That breeze started blowing in 1981, and Reagan captured the nation’s attention with a long discourse with one major theme: The people are what’s right with America- and the people will see us restored.
In 1981, Reagan not only but Carter to bed, he put Nixon to bed, too.
Donald Trump does not have the mandate to put Barack Obama to bed. If anything, I expect a glowing tribute, much like Reagan’s to Carter, and then a turn to page after page on how he will fix the country.
Reports today announce the Inaugural Balls have been cut back from ten to three, and the Inaugural parade will be shortened to one hour so the President can get down to business.
Inaugurations set the tone for the entire administration. I look forward to a Reagan-like call to put power back on the people:
“We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are not heroes, they just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter, and they’re on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They’re individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet, but deep. Their values sustain our national life.
Now, I have used the words “they” and “their” in speaking of these heroes. I could say “you” and “your,” because I’m addressing the heroes of whom I speak—you, the citizens of this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration, so help me God. ” Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981.
But gosh- a little styling after Richard Nixon on January 20, 1969 would be good for all of us, too. Nixon spoke about greatness:
“Greatness comes in simple trappings.
The simple things are the ones most needed today if we are to surmount what divides us, and cement what unites us.
To lower our voices would be a simple thing.
In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading.
We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another–until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.
For its part, government will listen. We will strive to listen in new ways–to the voices of quiet anguish, the voices that speak without words, the voices of the heart–to the injured voices, the anxious voices, the voices that have despaired of being heard.
Those who have been left out, we will try to bring in.
Those left behind, we will help to catch up.
For all of our people, we will set as our goal the decent order that makes progress possible and our lives secure.
As we reach toward our hopes, our task is to build on what has gone before–not turning away from the old, but turning toward the new.” Richard Nixon, January 20, 1969.
Here’s to a new year, a new president, and a new breath of freedom.