Analysis of Donald Trump's Inaugural Address

On 20 January 2017, Donald John Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. He takes office at the end of the most acrimonious campaigns in recent history, and with Americans deeply divided, as witnessed by the protests that erupted across the country (and the world) the next day.

Embed from Getty Images

An inaugural address is an opportunity to bring the country together, to heal the wounds that were opened during the election campaign. For Donald Trump, it was a missed opportunity.

Trump’s address was dark and aggressive. Trump talked about healing and coming together, but his tone and the content of his speech were more confrontational than conciliatory. Given the bitterness of the campaign, this did not come as a complete surprise. Yet, Trump’s speech stands in stark contrast to the inaugural addresses delivered by his predecessors.
When Abraham Lincoln gave his second inaugural address in 1865, just months before the end of the American Civil War, he said:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

For too much of his speech it sounded like Trump was speaking with malice toward many and charity toward too few. During his inaugural address, delivered while World War II raged, Franklin Roosevelt said:

We have learned that we cannot live alone, at peace; that our own well-being is dependent on the well-being of other nations far away.  We have learned that we must live as men, not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger.

By contrast, Trump spoke of America first, strengthening borders and protectionism.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter said:

Let our recent mistakes bring a resurgent commitment to the basic principles of our Nation, for we know that if we despise our own government we have no future.

Throughout his address, Donald Trump raged against the very politicians who were all around him. He even took another thinly disguised shot at Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis when he mentioned “politicians who are all talk and no action”.

In his first inaugural address, George W. Bush spoke frequently of civility and compassion. He also thanked Al Gore “for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace.” Trump had the perfect opportunity to reach out to supporters of Clinton with a simple statement but he ignored it. And there was little evidence of civility or compassion in the words or tone of Trump.

Furthermore, and worryingly, some of the things that Trump has said in public in the days following his inauguration stand in stark contrast to his words on Capitol Hill.

The video of Trump’s speech is below. Like I did with Barack Obama’s final speech, I have set out the entire text of Trump’s speech after the video. At various places, I have added my thoughts in [blue]. They refer to the text that comes immediately before.

Donald Trump – Inaugural Address

Chief Justice Roberts, President Carter, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, fellow Americans, and people of the world: Thank you. [Rather bizarre for Trump to thank the “people of the world”. The rest of the worlds did not vote for Trump. He should not pin this on us.]

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people. 
Together, we will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come. We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done. [Anaphora.]

Embed from Getty Images

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. [A magnanimous statement.]

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because 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. [I am always wary of statements about transferring power back to the people. The term “people’s republic” has often been associated with oppressive communist rule. I will be curious to see how, concretely, power that Americans supposedly do not have now will be transferred back to them.]

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. [A powerful tricolon, but also a divisive one, is typical of Trump and his strategy.]

Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. [Another powerful and divisive tricolon.]

That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you. It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America.

This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country. [Tricolon.]

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. [Chiasmus.]

January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. [Nice use of “forgotten”.] Everyone is listening to you now.

Embed from Getty Images

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the centre of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. [Trump played on the desire of many people to reject globalism and to focus on matters at home. The latter, of course, is important, but an isolationist policy has rarely been good for any country.]

These are the just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.

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 [Powerful metaphor but bleak and hyperbolic] across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge [Again, “deprived of all knowledge” is too extreme. The education system does need improvement, especially in inner cities, but there is still much that is good about it]; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealised potential. [According to statistics from the FBI, crime is at a 20-year low. Yes, it is still a problem, but in a speech of this nature, it would have been easy to say that progress has been made in lowering crime in the country but more needs to be done.]

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now. [The use of “carnage” was inappropriate, even metaphorically. Carnage is a bloody slaughter and to describe America in such a state serves only to whip up misguided populism against something that does not exist. Yes, there are problems and issues, but it is not carnage.]

We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. [I found it interesting that he says “we are one nation” but then talks about “their” and “our”.] We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. [Tricolon and anaphora.]

The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.

Embed from Getty Images

For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. [Rhetorically, this staccato set of comparisons is effective. But it signals an isolationist approach to dealing with issues.]

We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world. [Shuttered factories and wealth being “ripped” from people are powerful images. Trump trades in this kind of drama.]

But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future.

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.

From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First, America First. [Arguably one of the most important statements in the speech. It will play well with Trump’s supporters but it is self-centred and will bump up against reality when dealing with other countries.]

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. [That is fine, but issues like trade and foreign affairs involve dealing with other countries. Those countries have interests as well and they have their own citizens to take care of. International relations require give and take.]

We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. [History suggests otherwise. The United States tried the same thing with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930. It resulted in other countries throwing up barriers against US goods and made the Great Depression that much more severe for American workers and farmers.]

I will fight for you with every breath in my body – and I will never, ever let you down. [I hope so but I have my doubts.]

America will start winning again, winning like never before. [Consistent with his campaign rhetoric.]

We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. [Anaphora and consonance: bring back.]

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. [Polysyndeton]
We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour.

We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American. [The repetition of “American” is epistrophe. I have no problem in principle, but if the United States expects other countries to buy its exports, it is going to have to buy goods from other countries.]

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. [After the polemical statements above, one wonders how sincere this statement is. And, if it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first, where does that leave international dialogue?]

We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example – we will shine – for everyone to follow. [Of course the next day, Trump suggested during a CIA speech that the United States might get another chance to steal Iraq’s oilOne has to wonder about the sincerity of this statement in his inaugural address.]

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones – and unite the civilised world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth. [Fighting radical Islamic terrorism is one thing, but to say it like this without extending an olive branch to the vast majority of Muslims who just want to live in peace makes this an extremely bellicose statement.]

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. [I am all for national pride, but “total allegiance” sounds Orwellian.]

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The Bible tells us: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” [The only quote in the speech.]

Embed from Getty Images

We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. [A united America is indeed powerful, but the rhetoric from Trump has been divisive and the rocky relationship with the press makes open debate difficult. Again, it sounds Orwellian.]

There should be no fear – we are protected, and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we will be protected by God. [And yet, his campaign was based on fear and anger. A classic example of saying one thing to get elected and another once elected.]

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is striving. [The words “living” and “striving” work well together.]

We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action – constantly complaining but never doing anything about it. [Hardly conciliatory given the number of politicians gathered. There are better ways of encouraging action from politicians.]

The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. 
Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. [A positive statement about seizing the new opportunities that are opening up.]

A new national pride will stir our souls, lift our sights, and heal our divisions. [Good words but it is the healing of divisions that concerns me. In the days since the inauguration, they seem to have worsened instead of improved.]

It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag. [A unifying statement.]

And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they fill their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty Creator. [This was a poetic line. But Trump could have used more positive words than “sprawl” and “windswept”.]

Embed from Getty Images

So to all Americans, in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, and from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again. [A nice idea. But when Trump’s administration announces that he will not release his tax returns when a majority of Americans want him to, it is difficult to believe that the wishes of the people will never be ignored again.]

Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams, will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way.

Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. [Anaphora and epistrophe.]

And, yes, together, we will make America great again. [It makes sense to end on this note as it was the theme of his campaign.]

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you. God bless America.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest
Picture of mannerofspeaking


  1. Trump says he will reach out to the ‘forgotten men and women still trapped in poverty’, due to globalization or callous ‘big business’ interests, yet his wealth shows he’s one of the benefactors of this American dream that has left people cast along the wayside. How credible is he, that he will fight for the man on the street?

    1. That is the big question, Christina. Most politicians usually are well off (though not to the extent that Trump is) and the issue is how well they can bridge the gap between them and most people to advance policies that will benefit the majority of the citizens. I hope that Trump does a good job. We will see.

    1. Thanks, Craig. January, July? What’s the difference, really? Ha! Good catch. Nobody had mentioned that and I appreciate your pointing it out. When you write at 2,500+ word post and proofread it, after a while you don’t see anything anymore. I am sure that you can empathize.

  2. Thank you, John, for the brilliant analysis of script (rhetoric etc) not to mention well-researched historical details too. I have printed this off (like your humorous winning competition speech) for reference. With some luck, I may be asking for some professional support from you down the road. Keep up the good work.

  3. Thank you John for picking up this topic. I did not watch the speech so I was pleased to have the opportunity here together with your interesting analysis. I agree that this was a missed opportunity to unite citizens and even both political parties. I can’t stop thinking that this is the reason for his success, not following rules and not “losing time” with political correctness. One can support this approach or not, but what I find worrying is the term “alternative facts”.

    It’s too early to judge, but he will need to understand that isolation, aka “America first”, wont be the key to success and by the way hasn’t been in the past.

    1. Thanks, Omer. Trump definitely won the election by breaking many conventional rules and it seems that, for now at least, he intends to govern the same way. But it is one thing to campaign and another to work with people (Democrats and Republicans) to get legislation passed. We will see how long he is able to keep this up.

      As for “alternative facts”, it is a troubling signal from the administration and something on which I plan to write in the future.

  4. I doubt Trump has the command to write this speech, but he has certainly edited, for the worse, a succinct and powerful inaugural address.

    1. According to Trump, he wrote the address though I have difficulty believing that he was the only one involved. Yes, it was a powerful address but dark and confrontational.

      1. Nice break down of the speech. I am sure someone saw the speech. It was an interesting speech that I feel spoke to those who voted for him. He was not my top pick but feel, as someone stated in another article, that Hillary was the totally wrong choice for the other side.
        Trump’s style of speech is one of a business executive and his actions at this time are typical of a new CEO going into a company where changes are swift to alert those that there is a new person in charge. The US is, of course, not a privately held company. But what we should conclude is that our politicians, on both sides of the aisle, have hijacked this country in a manner which the only solution is to be more aggressive in approach to making changes and not coasting on special interest monies.

        1. Thanks for the comment, David. It is a sign of the times that so much has happened between your comment and my reply. I agree with you about Trump’s style, but he will run into problems if that is the only approach he takes; indeed, he already has. I think that the country had better options than either of the two main candidates, but that is neither here nor there now. I plan to write more about political situation in the US from the public speaking perspective, so stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 − one =


John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International