- - Monday, January 23, 2017


Promises are easy to make and hard to keep. Donald Trump made more than a few from the western front of the Capitol when he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. The first one was perhaps the most important — taken as an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” By remaining true to those words, he will accomplish something that Barack Obama never did. Beyond that, accomplishing even a portion of his promises will make America better.

Mr. Trump’s Inaugural address was blunt and businesslike, starting with his promise that “today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This was tough stuff, but tough stuff is not unprecedented for the occasion. Grim-faced grandees of both major political parties seated nearby might agree with one pundit, frequently on a search for a fainting couch, who called it “the most dreadful inaugural address” ever. Ronald Reagan made the establishment squirm in his first Inaugural with his observation that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” (William Henry Harrison’s was so bad it killed him.)

Americans who expect to live in obscurity unless the Internal Revenue Service calls, were encouraged to hear that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Mr. Trump’s vow that “every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families” is a repudiation of the globalist worldview that captivated Democrats and Republicans alike.

The new president pledged that “from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first … We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.” It was a striking contrast to John F. Kennedy’s call to “let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

In the half-century since JFK said that, the nation has been there and done that. It was a strategy for the Cold War, but for the war on terror, not so much. The Trump approach is a bow to reality, acknowledging the United States can no longer afford to police the world. John Quincy Adams said it nearly two centuries ago: “Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

A strain of isolationism lurks in Mr. Trump’s language, but he promised as well to “reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.” Of all the new president’s vows, this one rings hollow. The scourge of Islamic terror is a cancer of ideas beyond the reach of arms that will be defeated only when compassion becomes more appealing than murder. If Mr. Trump follows through on his plans to build a wall on the border and perform “extreme vetting” of immigrants from radicalized regions of the world, he will have done all that is reasonably possible to keep Americans safe.

Making America great again — i.e., restoring America’s confidence in itself — will require more than a lick and a promise. But making a start will make the world a greater place, too.

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