President Donald Trump has set out a bleak portrayal of a nation under siege, vowing to end “American carnage” in an inaugural address that fired up his supporters but did little to ease the fears of American liberals or an anxious world.
Moments after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, Trump described a country in crisis and pledged an isolationist and protectionist cure, declaring: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.”
Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton looked stone-faced during the speech, while George W Bush at times appeared uncomfortable. But there were cheers from Trump’s supporters on a rainy National Mall in Washington. The crowd was largely white and notably smaller than for many past inaugurations.
Under the dome of the US Capitol, the billionaire businessman hailed the “historic movement” that swept him to a shock victory over Hillary Clinton in last November’s presidential election, claiming it was unique in world history. Citizens expect great education, safe neighbourhoods and good jobs, the 70-year-old continued.
“But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential.
“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
It was a grim account of the most prosperous nation on earth from a man denounced by critics as an authoritarian populist. Trump’s aides had indicated that one of his inspirations for the speech was John F Kennedy’s inaugural address in 1961. But there were closer echoes of a 1968 speech by Richard Nixon that described “cities enveloped in smoke and flame” and hearing “millions of Americans cry out in anguish”.