Inagural speech is Trump’s time to rise to the moment

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017



WASHINGTON — Tradition suggests it’s time for Donald Trump to set aside the say-anything speaking style and rise to the inaugural moment.

But bucking tradition, or ignoring it altogether, is what got Donald Trump to his inaugural moment.

When Trump stands on the west front of the Capitol on Friday and delivers his inaugural address, all sides will be waiting to see whether he comes bearing a unifying message for a divided nation or decides to play up his persona as a disrupter of the established order.

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How Trump tends to that balancing act, in both style and content, will be a telling launch for his presidency.

“The inaugural is an address that is meant for the ages,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “In particular, it’s important when you’ve had a divisive election. You need to become president of all of the people, including those who vehemently opposed your election.”

Trump seems to get that.

He’s spoken admiringly in recent weeks about the speeches of past presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, and is said to be deeply involved in preparing his address. He’s expected to deliver a personal speech, while returning to some of the big themes of his campaign, including a deep love of country.

Trump told Fox on Tuesday that he’ll start his address with words of thanks to “everybody,” including President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, for being “so gracious.”

The president-elect showed he can deliver a straight-forward, prepared address at the Republican convention, where he largely stuck to a script and shut down anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “lock her up” from the crowd of GOP loyalists.

But that address was strikingly dark in tone, sketching a portrait of an America in crisis, and he later embraced that chant from supporters at his freewheeling campaign rallies.

The inaugural address, by contrast, needs to be “an inherently aspirational speech,” said Michael Gerson, who wrote speeches for President George W. Bush and is a frequent Trump critic. “It has to be about the future and about your vision.”

Veteran speechwriters have plenty of other advice for Trump and his chief wordsmith, Stephen Miller. Keep it short. Don’t overdo the gravitas. Don’t gloat, the victory tour is over. No deviations from script.

Oh, and don’t undo a successful inaugural address with an intemperate tweet — or two or three — a few hours later.

While Trump used his victory speech on Election Night to sound a call to “come together as one united people,” his tweets since then have featured name calling, score settling and petulance.