Just after Donald Trump takes the Oath of Office later today, he will begin what is probably going to be the most anticipated and closely watched inaugural address in modern history. But while Trump's path to the presidency was built on everything you can define as unprecedented in U.S. politics, there are some messages from past inaugural addresses that the new president could — and maybe should — resurrect to prove he is still part of a continuing American tradition.
Let's face it, most inaugural addresses are simply rhetorical victory laps. They usually include a line or two about unity, and that's about it. But this time, there is real mystery about Trump's policies for the next four years and there are also a lot very anxious people who will be listening more carefully than usual.
To that end, and in the interest of perhaps saving the Trump speech writing team a little time, there are five quotes from past inaugural addresses that President Trump could use today without changing a word. And making things better, each of them work in accordance with the overall messages Trump sent throughout most of his campaign:
1-2: On national defense, channel JFK
"We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed."
"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it." (John F. Kennedy, 1961)
President Trump is going to be portrayed as a hawk based on his many statements and his appointment of General James "Mad Dog" Mattis as Defense Secretary. Using President Kennedy's strongest words on American defense from his inaugural address would prove to the nation that hawkish words and policies should be bipartisan in the face of Islamic terror, Chinese and Russian adventurism, and all the instability that entails.
3-4: Use Jackson and Reagan to define the government's role in the economy
"It would seem to me that the spirit of equity, caution and compromise in which the Constitution was formed requires that the great interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures should be equally favored, and that perhaps the only exception to this rule should consist in the peculiar encouragement of any products of either of them that may be found essential to our national independence." (Andrew Jackson, 1829)
"Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery, and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity." (Ronald Reagan, 1981)
Trump has already spent a great deal of the transition period working with several companies in different industries to boost their investment in America and American jobs. But that's created more than a little trepidation for some who worry about too much government intrusion. By quoting Jackson, Trump can make the point that Washington has favored some industries over others for far too long. Blaming taxes and regulations for driving manufacturing out of this country can be done in the context of quoting Jackson's admonishment not to hurt any American industry.
The Reagan quote is one of the best justifications for tax cuts, especially in the face of all the criticism that they only favor the rich. The simple idea that taxes hurt those who make the least amount of money from their labors is still very compelling.
5: Soothe the country with a nod to Democracy's endurance
"There are men who believe that democracy, as a form of Government and a frame of life, is limited or measured by a kind of mystical and artificial fate that, for some unexplained reason, tyranny and slavery have become the surging wave of the future -- and that freedom is an ebbing tide. But we Americans know that this is not true." (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941)
The nation is not only divided along the usual partisan conservative/liberal lines right now. It's also divided between those who believe the country has a new president who does not believe in democracy and those who think he simply seeks to disrupt government as usual. President Roosevelt's promise in the quote above about the strength of democracy was meant to bolster a nation about to go to war with fascist dictators in Germany, Japan, and Italy. But it's a message that works today for those very worried anti-Trump protesters and the Trump supporters alike. Yes, the nation and its democratic process will survive no matter what Trump or the most radical anti-Trump activists try to do. But FDR's message is also important today for our enemies to hear, just as it was meant for Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini to hear in 1941. There are still too many foreign leaders who promote tyranny and slavery who should know that democracy and democratic nations will beat them every time.
Will Trump use any of the above quotes? It's likely that he at least will paraphrase the ideas contained in at least one or two of them. This time more than any other in his very public life, the whole world will truly be watching.