Though CNN anchor Jake Tapper said President Donald Trump’s address Friday was “completely consistent with his brand,” he asserted it was “one of the most radical” inaugural speeches he’s ever heard.
Speaking under overcast skies early Friday afternoon, Trump appealed to the “forgotten men and women of our country,” pledging from the dais on the western portico of the Capitol Building to commit his presidency to them.
In his overtly populist message, the president, at the center of the U.S.’s extraordinary transition of power, vowed that “American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
“It was very consistent to the Trump brand, absolutely,” Tapper said moments after Trump concluded his remarks. “I have to say, I think it’s fair to say, this is one of the most radical inaugural speeches we’ve ever heard.”
Tapper noted the irony of the fact that Trump rejected Washington, D.C., as he was standing in the heart of the nation’s capital surrounded by the men and women with whom he will work over the next four years.
.@jaketapper: “I think it’s fair to say, this is one of the most radical inaugural speeches we’ve ever heard” https://t.co/bGrMcGDeOR
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) January 20, 2017
“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,” Trump said. “That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.”
The CNN host suggested the address was unlike any other speech of its kind because of its “purely populist” appeal. “It attacked Washington while standing in the center of Washington, D.C., rounded by Washington insiders,” Tapper noted.
“There was nothing really particularly conservative about this Republican president’s speech,” he added.
It is worth noting that Trump’s rejection of Washington and his populist bent is not unique to him. In fact, during his first inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1981, former President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
What was unique, though, was Trump’s apparent idealogical shift regarding the United States’ place in the world. During his speech, the new president — keeping with his campaign rhetoric — said his White House is going to put “America first.”
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” Trump asserted. “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.”
“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world,” he later added, “but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”
Tapper said that new perspective departs “greatly from what we’ve heard from all of his predecessors on the stage — Obama, Bush, Carter.”
Interestingly, however, Trump’s stance against nation-building is not all that different from what former President George W. Bush said when he was campaigning for the White House in 2000.
“If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road,” Bush said at the time.
But, after the 9/11 attacks, Bush changed his mind on the matter, writing in his memoir, “Decision Points,” that “Afghanistan was the ultimate nation-building mission,” adding:
We had liberated the country from a primitive dictatorship, and we had a moral obligation to leave behind something better. We also had a strategic interest in helping the Afghan people build a free society, a democratic Afghanistan would be a hopeful alternative to the vision of the extremists.
And despite rejecting Bush’s Iraq War on the campaign trail in 2008, drawing troops out of Afghanistan in 2012 and declaring that it was time to “focus on nation-building here at home,” former President Barack Obama became caught up in a similar bind over his Libyan intervention in 2011.
While he stood by his belief that toppling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was the “right thing to do,” he said last year that the military intervention in Libya was his “worst mistake” because of his administration’s “failing to plan for the day after” the operation was completed.
Trump, for his part, has vowed to end nation-building and cut back U.S. intervention around the world. It’s something many presidential candidates have promised to do, but once in the Oval Office, it has proved increasingly difficult to accomplish.