What should his speech include?
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Presidential inaugural speeches are typically used to provide a sense of the character of the president and what he hopes to accomplish in his upcoming term of office. It also affords the president an opportunity to provide a sense of what our priorities and values should be. As we have just survived a brutal election campaign, Donald Trump’s speech will be incredibly important to heal the nation and help us move forward. There will be those who will dismiss his comments out of hand, but even they should listen carefully to what he has to say before criticizing him.
I have listened and read many inaugural addresses over the years, some are obviously better than others, and quite often there is some commonality between them, such as calling for the people to renew their efforts and support the nation.
If I were to write Mr. Trump’s address, I would consider including the following subject areas and how past presidents addressed them.
* A CALL FOR MORALITY
It is important to review and restore our sense of right and wrong. To this end Dwight Eisenhower found a clever way to express his sense of morality in his first inaugural address (January 20, 1953) by opening with the following:
“My friends, before I begin the expression of those thoughts that I deem appropriate to this moment, would you permit me the privilege of uttering a little private prayer of my own. And I ask that you bow your heads:
Almighty God, as we stand here at this moment my future associates in the Executive branch of Government join me in beseeching that Thou will make full and complete our dedication to the service of the people in this throng, and their fellow citizens everywhere.
Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby, and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all the people regardless of station, race or calling.
May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory. Amen.”
* UNITING THE COUNTRY
America is deeply divided today due to political ideologue, resulting in culture clashes and riots. Although an inaugural address cannot singularly solve such a problem, it can help set the tone for uniting the country.
Probably nobody knew the pain of a divided country better than Abraham Lincoln. In 1858, before assuming the presidency, he gave his famous “House Divided” speech at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, warning of the dangers of division, but it was his second inaugural address (March 4, 1865) where he began to call for unity and forgiveness near the conclusion of the Civil War:
“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.”
* THE DIGNITY OF THE COMMON MAN
Theodore Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” speech, delivered at a banquet in Dallas, Texas (April 5, 1905), referred to the dignity of the common man and, as such, his rights as an America citizen:
“We must act upon the motto of all for each and each for all. There must be ever present in our minds the fundamental truth that in a republic such as ours the only safety is to stand neither for nor against any man because he is rich or because he is poor, because he is engaged in one occupation or another, because he works with his brains or because he works with his hands. We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.”
* A CALL FOR HOPE AND OPTIMISM
So far, the 21st century has proven to be a difficult time for all Americans, be it as a result of 9-11, the economic recession, and social upheaval. As such, it is necessary to lift up the spirits of the citizens, and offer them a glimmer of hope.
Following cousin Teddy’s “Square Deal,” Franklin Roosevelt wanted to lift the hopes of Americans suffering from the Great Depression with a “New Deal.” In July 11, 1932, TIME magazine quoted him as saying:
“Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth… I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.”
In Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural address (January 21, 1985), he admonished Americans:
“My fellow citizens, our Nation is poised for greatness. We must do what we know is right and do it with all our might. Let history say of us, “These were golden years-when the American Revolution was reborn, when freedom gained new life, when America reached for her best.”
President Calvin Coolidge made the observation:
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
* THE NEED FOR RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
The need for responsible citizens is an important attribute for any country to promote moral values, patriotism, and to improve society.
In his first inaugural address (January 20, 2001), George W. Bush observed:
“What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.
Americans are generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold beliefs beyond ourselves. When this spirit of citizenship is missing, no government program can replace it. When this spirit is present, no wrong can stand against it.”
* A CALL FOR LAW AND ORDER
Today, we suffer from a lack of respect for law and order. Law Enforcement officers have been assaulted and assassinated, and we have experienced massive demonstrations, with very few being peaceful in intent.
At an address at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul, MN (September 2, 1901), Theodore Roosevelt said:
“The first essential of civilization is law. Anarchy is simply the handmaiden and forerunner of tyranny and despotism. Law and order enforced with justice and by strength lie at the foundations of civilization. Law must be based upon justice, else it cannot stand, and it must be enforced with resolute firmness, because weakness in enforcing it means in the end that there is no justice and no law, nothing but the rule of disorderly and unscrupulous strength. Without the habit of orderly obedience to the law, without the stern enforcement of the laws at the expense of those who defiantly resist them, there can be no possible progress, moral or material, in civilization. There can be no weakening of the law-abiding spirit here at home, if we are permanently to succeed; and just as little can we afford to show weakness abroad.”
* EXTENDING AN OLIVE BRANCH TO ALL COUNTRIES
America is now accused of “leading from behind,” thereby losing respect in the world community. It is necessary for America to again be looked upon as a force to be reckoned with.
At John Kennedy’s inauguration (January 20, 1961), he explained his foreign policy:
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
This much we pledge–and more.
To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends.
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.”
* WHERE WE SHOULD BE GOING
Americans value leadership as they like to know where the country is headed.
To illustrate, it was John Kennedy who called for a renewed effort of America’s space program and putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. His talk was delivered at Rice University in Houston, Texas (September 12, 1962).
“But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? …
We choose to go to the Moon! … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win …”
This speech reflected vision and inspired the people, helping to make the 1960’s an era of possibilities.
Such eloquent rhetoric will be impossible to replicate in a single speech, but if Trump can effectively touch on each of these subject areas, the country will become more confident and possibly less divisive. His objective should be to inspire the nation and motivate the citizens to work together cooperatively, morally, and responsibly.
Whether you love him or hate him, you can ill-afford not to listen to his inaugural address. Stay tuned for January 20th, when we will learn how to “Make America Great Again.”
Keep the Faith!