President Obama concluded his first inaugural address by recalling a quote from a Thomas Paine pamphlet that George Washington ordered read to his troops when it looked like the revolution was about to be crushed.
“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came further to meet [it].
“America: In the face of our common dangers,” Obama said, “in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come.”
There is little doubt that President Obama embodied hope. He constantly appealed to our better angels, hoping that justice and goodness would be enough to carry Americans back into prosperity. Everyone wanted him to be right. He wasn’t.
And the reason, as Thomas Paine knew and wrote, was that hope and virtue is the nation’s animating spirit, but in order to conquer danger, Americans much march forth to meet it. Hoping is not enough. Action must be taken to preserve everything that America was built upon.
That message—the end of passive acceptance of our collective fate—was one that President Donald Trump sought to make clear in his inaugural address. While we were waiting and hoping, less scrupulous individuals at home and nation’s abroad were leeching our success, eroding the foundations of freedom and prosperity that we had worked so long to construct. This cannot continue, Trump argued, instead, power must be restored to its rightful place – the people.
“Today we are not merely transferred 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 American People.”
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. 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.
Of course, Mr. Trump is far from the first president to come to town as an agent of change. Few presidents have the luxury of simply promising to build upon the success of their predecessor. Perhaps even fewer have been able to successfully impress their ambition upon Washington, instead finding that the levers and gears of government are rusted in place. But Trump’s speech was a battlecry against that existing order.
Protocol and tradition—tools that have been twisted to consolidate power—appear to have no influence over Trump.
His only rulebook is the Constitution. Trump’s inaugural speech was an embodiment of that idea. There was little flowery pose, no clever turns-of-phrase, and no overwrought metaphors, the use of which seem designed to secure a place in history rather than convey any sort of message. Instead, in a short speech and in simple words, Trump made clear his aspirations for the nation, and the unbending attitude he would employ to see them through. This was not a speech that sought to get the crowd chanting “yes, we can,” it was a speech to convince Americans that “yes, we will.”
“We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you in cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America,” Trump said.
“I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down.”
For Americans who have been let down so often, it was a breath of fresh air. That does not mean that we should lose our hope. It only means we must be prepared to work for our hopes.