Donald Trump’s presidency won’t be written in poetry. He’s neither a poet himself nor does he inspire flights of fancy and heroic language. He reprised his aims — “dark” and harsh in the description of his more delicate critics — in his inaugural address in the language of his campaign, plain and sometimes rough at the edges, planks with the bark still on. His plain speech recalls neither John F. Kennedy nor Ronald Reagan, but Harry S Truman.
The 33d president was often egged on by campaign crowds with chants of “give ‘em hell, Harry!” but Mr. Truman insisted that “I don’t give anybody hell, I just tell they truth and they think it’s hell.” The new president has compared himself to Andrew Jackson, but if he succeeds with his agenda the Truman comparison might be more apt.
His ego, like that of the man he succeeded, is more than robust, but unlike the man he succeeded he kept it well under control in his inaugural address. He disdained the vertical pronoun, speaking not of “I” but of “we.” The movement that elected him president, he said, was about the people.
“We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people,” he told the crowd that thronged the National Mall under a persistent sprinkle of a midwinter’s rain. “January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women will be forgotten no longer.
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first. The time for empty talk is over, now arrives the hour of action.”
The new president has set an ambitious agenda, and when he says it’s time to get down to business he knows he will be held to account from the beginning. He will have no honeymoon. His partisan opposition is more than ever determined to prevent him from delivering the change he promised. These partisans won’t be satisfied until they see his presidency in ruins.
The new president must resist dealing with the loyal opposition the way Barack Obama, for all his talk of “inclusion,” dealt with the Republicans upon his inauguration eight years ago. He intended to govern without them, he said in one memorable remark, because “I won.” Obamacare followed, and so did the remarkable Republican congressional blow-outs in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Mr. Trump must be mindful, as Mr. Obama was not, of the iron rule of politics that nothing recedes like success.
Americans, Democrats and Republicans all, want partisan rivals to work together when they can, and disagree without being disagreeably obnoxious when they can’t. This sometimes seems to be beyond the understanding of many congressional Democrats — dozens stayed away from the Inaugural, like pouting children — who don’t understand that throwing stones and spitballs at the president is setting up another Democratic disaster in the midterm congressional elections only 24 months hence.
Mr. Trump campaigned with promises that proved to have widespread public support. Surely everyone wants meaningful tax reform, budget sanity and the restoration of an economy that leads to economic growth and real jobs for the men and women in flyover country, that rust belt that contributed so mightily to the election of the new president.
The jury is not yet out on Donald Trump. Like all juries, it has to listen to the evidence first. “Verdict first, evidence later” didn’t work in Alice’s wonderland, and it won’t work in America, either. Americans of goodwill will give the new president the opportunity to demonstrate, unhindered, that he can do the job.