Kudlow's Corner

Here's what you need to know to understand Trump

Trump gives first speech as President of the United States

In all the media back and forth over President Trump's inaugural speech, most have missed a central point: His address was infused with a wonderful sense of optimism.

As an old Reagan guy, I have learned through the years that optimism equals true leadership. And yes, true leadership cannot be achieved without optimism.

Toward the back end of his speech, Trump said: "We must think big and dream even bigger." To understand Trump and his message on Inauguration Day is to appreciate the importance of that sentence.

He then added this: "The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again."

President Donald Trump leaves the Presidents Room of the Senate at the Capitol after he formally signed his cabinet nominations into law, in Washington, U.S. on January 20, 2017.
J. Scott Applewhite | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

All the media's talk about the so-called dark nature of the speech completely obscured these crucial lines.

I don't know about you, folks, but I am tired of all this talk of American decline. Permanent decline. Secular stagnation. A new normal that dooms us to slow growth. Falling living standards. Weak middle-class wages. And all the rest.

You hear it enough you could almost come to believe it.

Yes, in recent years, the country has fallen into a pessimistic funk. But this is not the America I know. And far more important, it's not the America President Trump wants.

Trump was a change candidate who blasted away at the establishment's failures at the expense of ordinary Main Street folk. And he successfully ran with the simple idea that things can be fixed. And he brought that optimism to his inaugural address.

"Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done."

Decades ago, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, the intellectual consensus was that high inflation, high unemployment, and American decline could not be changed. The idea was that the country was ungovernable.

But Reagan put an end to that. He did it with a clear set of easy-to-understand policies to fix the economy and restore American leadership abroad. And he guided that plan into place with his quintessential optimism.

Trump and Reagan are very different people. And Trump's governing style will be nothing like Reagan's. But the underlying principle of optimism is the same.

"Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger." How quintessentially American is that? Can we return to being the proverbial City on the Hill? Yes we can.

President Trump has the potential to be a transformational figure. And he is moving fast. His actions and energy in just the first couple of days have been remarkable.
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For these reasons I believe President Trump has the potential to be a transformational figure. And he is moving fast. His actions and energy in just the first couple of days have been remarkable.

Everywhere he repeats the theme of economic growth with lower taxes and fewer burdensome regulations. The war on business is over. We will reward, not punish, success.

He talks bilateral trade deals that can be enforced. He is freezing federal hiring, proposing to cut government spending $10.5 trillion over ten years, doing away with Obamacare mandates, getting the Keystone and Dakota pipelines in place, welcoming a constant flow of visitors from businesses and unions, and taking calls from foreign heads of state.

He has set up a meeting with British prime minister Theresa May, moving a U.S.˗Britain free-trade agreement from the back of the queue to the front.

He is making it clear that he will seek border security, replace catch-and-release with catch-and-deport, institute skills-based (rather than family-based) legal immigration, deport criminal illegals, and end sanctuary cities.

Following up on his inaugural pledge to eradicate ISIS -- "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth" -- he is calling for a military strategy memo from the Joint Chiefs and is backing an allied coalition of ground forces to take the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria.

No more containment of ISIS. The eradication of ISIS. We have wanted to hear this for years. Trump said it, and he means it.

Finally, conservative journalists are now recognized at the beginning of press conferences, cabinet nominees are getting through confirmation, and Republicans on the Hill are finding they can work with the new president.

In all this -- from strength at home to strength abroad -- Trump is moving at warp speed. And he is keeping to his inaugural pledge that "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families."

This is what he ran on. Thankfully, he is not about to change. And that's why he has the potential for greatness.

Right now, I truly wish folks would help him, not seek to harm him. Give him a chance.

"We must think big and dream even bigger."

Commentary by Larry Kudlow, a senior contributor at CNBC and economics editor of the National Review. Follow him on Twitter @Larry_Kudlow.

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