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5 takeaways from Trump’s inaugural address

The Donald Trump era might be unpredictable, but it’s tailor-made for Americans with short attention spans.

Under a gray sky that opened up into rain as he began to speak, Donald Trump’s first words to the American people as President of the United States were delivered in a punchy, populist, 16-minute-short campaign rallying cry-turned-inaugural address that wrapped up as he pumped his fist in the air in victory and vowed to “Make America Great Again.”

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If it was short on policy, the address was long on gloomy motifs like “American carnage”—a stark contrast to President Obama’s first inaugural address eight years ago, when he told the huge crowd: “We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

Trump was relying on the same broad-stroke, fear-based ideas and staccato delivery that got him to the White House—a sign that Americans are actually getting the showman they voted for.

Trump’s personal Twitter feed immediately filled up with highlights from the speech (“BUY AMERICAN & HIRE AMERICAN”) while his new, government @POTUS account remained silent and bare—an early sign that Trump plans to keep being himself even as he occupies the role of commander-in-chief.

His son Donald Trump Jr. promised that Trump is taking in all the gravity of the day, and the duty he now carries. “He’s been humbled by the whole process,” Trump Jr. told MSNBC. “And you know, whether he shows that outwardly or not is, you know, is one thing.”

Here are five takeaways from Trump’s sui generis Inauguration Day.

There is no pivot. He didn’t become “more presidential” when he clinched the Republican nomination. And he didn’t discover an off-ramp to the high road after he won the election last November in the upset of a lifetime. If you punched him during the transition, the president-elect still punched back. But what happened on Friday makes it official: vintage Trump is presidential Trump.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania leave St. John's Episcopal Church before Trump's inauguration.

The goal of an inauguration speech, particularly after a divisive election like the bleak one of 2016, is typically to unite the country. But there was nothing in Trump’s address to appeal to the majority of Americans who voted against him—just one utterance of the word “unity” and nothing about “coming together.” His comments about “the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” were ripped from his campaign playbook, and a reaffirmation of his core message, which has been heavily based in fear.

Trump may moderate some positions (see: famed wall becoming possible fence; a vow to create “insurance for everybody”). But there should be no more doubts that the 70-year-old—who famously trusts his gut and has turned himself into a success story even when he has failed—is going to keep being the only person he knows how to be.

Trump is still saying he’ll drain the swamp. Trump framed his inaugural address in us-against-them terms, pitting hardworking Americans versus the Washington establishment. “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.”

He vowed: “That all changes, starting right here and right now.”
In reality, Trump’s cabinet is made up of millionaires and billionaires, many of them poached from the top ranks and alumni lists at Goldman Sachs. These individuals have benefited from the system Trump’s pledged to overturn, and some are already vowing to cut the corporate tax rate.

Trump’s power comes from the fact that Republican members of Congress are afraid of his angry base. The question is how long Trump’s base will stick with him if his policies don’t produce a dramatic improvement in their daily lives.

Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th President of the United States

Crowd Size: Small. On Friday, the sea of red caps on the Mall celebrating Trump’s swearing-in didn’t stretch past the Smithsonian. Bleachers along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House sat empty. Despite Trump’s bragging that all the ball gowns in Washington, D.C. were sold out there were, in fact, dresses on the racks available, and there were plenty of vacant hotel rooms in the nation’s capital.

The 10,000-person crowd that came out for Thursday night’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial was a drop in the 400,000-person bucket that came out for President Obama’s concert eight years ago.

Size matters to Trump. And he’s back down to his most loyal base. The incoming president is entering office with a historically low approval rating—53 percent of Americans view him unfavorably, a troubling stat that Trump summarily dismissed on Twitter as “rigged.”

What he needs, badly, is a political win. “A win on the Hill will be enough to galvanize support,” said political strategist Stu Loeser, onetime press secretary to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But the real precedent for bringing people together is leading with conviction after an attack on Americans. We should pray that Trump’s chance looks more like Reagan’s Grenada than Bush’s 9/11.”

Key moments from the Presidential Inauguration