“It was a Trump speech,” said Beth Lesser, a Donald Trump supporter from Greenville, South Carolina, after listening to the president’s inaugural address on the Mall.
“He hasn’t changed at all — and I don’t want him to.”
Lesser was one of the thousands who traveled a long way to come to the inauguration, and who loved what they heard. They didn’t come to hear soaring rhetoric from Donald Trump. They didn’t come to hear Trump try to sound like Marco Rubio or, God forbid, Barack Obama. They came to hear Trump sound like himself.
That’s what they got. And to them, Inauguration Day was a day of hope.
“It brings some hope that we’re going to have a new direction for the country, that we’re going to create a real economic recovery,” said Rick Fischer, who organized for Trump in Fairfax County, Virginia.
“I think this really restores our country to its place in the world as far as a leader is concerned,” said Patrick O’Neal, of Atlanta
“To me, it means the future of America,” said Emily Ovecka, who volunteered for Trump in Philadelphia.
“It means the return of optimism,” said Phil Bell, of Vienna, Virginia. “We’ve had years and years where I personally, and I think a lot of people, have felt simply like we didn’t have an opportunity.”
Talking to people on the Mall was like entering a universe entirely apart from that of the political commentariat. In the pundits’ world, Trump delivered a pessimistic and foreboding address, one sure to further divide the nation. The adjective of choice was “dark.”
“Unusually dark,” wrote The Atlantic.
“Short, dark, and defiant,” wrote USA Today.
“A dark vision,” wrote the Los Angeles Times. There were many, many more.
Where journalists and pundits saw darkness, the people who came to the inauguration saw promise. For example — and this should shock no one who has spent even a minute paying attention to politics — they really liked it when Trump talked about jobs.
Indeed, the biggest applause line in the area where I was standing was when Trump said, “We will get our people off of welfare and back to work — rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
Where the pundits heard a “dark, weird” speech (New York magazine) or a “dark, raw” speech (Vanity Fair), or a “dark, hard-line” speech (the New York Times), the audience heard the possibility that jobs — not just low-paying service jobs, but better, higher-paying jobs — would come back to their communities.
“It’s the first time we’ve been excited and looking forward to a government,” said Jay Leone, of Long Island, New York. “I think it marks the beginning of a new era, hopefully, for prosperity and jobs and security.”
Trump’s speech was remarkable in that he spent a significant amount of time bashing the political establishment arrayed behind him on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. That was just fine with the people standing in front of him.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump said. “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,” Trump continued. “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.”
The people who come to inaugurations are a new president’s biggest supporters. Out where I was standing — the podium was far, far away — there were no bigwigs, no people who would have reservations Friday night at Washington’s priciest restaurants. Some had traveled a long way, but a lot were from neighboring Eastern Seaboard states. And many said they believed in Donald Trump from nearly the first day.
Patrick O’Neal, a Trump supporter from the get-go, said he booked tickets on Amtrak and made hotel reservations for January 20, 2017 in Washington back in January 2016. He felt that strongly that Trump would win.
From the moment Trump finished speaking, many analysts compared the inaugural address to Trump’s Republican convention acceptance speech last summer. And indeed, much of the punditocracy’s reaction to that speech was the same as its reaction to this one: it was “dark.”
Immediately after the convention speech, I asked 20 people in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, in quick succession, what they thought of it. They all thought it was great. Of course, those were the type of Republican loyalists who actually attended a GOP convention. On the Mall Friday, there were the type of Republican loyalists who attend a Republican presidential nomination.
The bigger question last summer — and now — was how the vastly larger TV audience would see the speech. As it turned out, Trump actually got a bounce from the convention. (It was short-lived, given that Trump created enormous problems for himself the very next week with the Khizr Khan affair.) At the very least, it’s fair to say that Trump’s convention speech did not keep him from winning the general election.
Now, Trump has given another speech with worlds-apart reactions from the commentators and the people who came to see him. Dark? On the Mall, people saw Trump’s speech as a ray of sunshine.
“It means we have a chance,” said Liz Rawlings, of Annapolis, Maryland. “We have a chance to move our country forward.”
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.