Trump’s dark and threatening first speech as US president has put the world on notice

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Donald J. Trump took the US presidential oath of office as rain began to fall over the Capitol building on Jan. 20 in Washington, becoming the 45th president of the world’s largest economy, and leader of the world’s most powerful democracy.

In a dark speech that promised radical changes to the way the US government interacts with other nations and its own citizens, Trump promised to bring an end to “American carnage” that has weakened the country and impoverished its people. He also repeated a phrase used by anti-Semitic groups as a slogan before Pearl Harbor.

“We the citizens of America are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people,” Trump said, in a speech that he reportedly wrote himself. “Together we will determine the course of America and the world for many, many years to come,” he said.

Trump spoke in front of a poncho-clad crowd that didn’t fill the National Mall, a far smaller audience than had gathered for inaugurations in the recent past, and addressed political dignitaries including former election rival Hillary Clinton, outgoing US president Barack Obama, and US Senate leader Mitch McConnell. Missing were about one-third of the sitting Congressional Democrats, who refused to attend on account of Trump’s statements about minorities, women, and veterans while on the campaign trail and concerns about foreign interference in the election.

Throughout the speech, Trump echoed a familiar, and misleading, theme from his campaign—that America is in terrible shape. America’s economic recovery after the 2008 recession indeed has been uneven, and its middle class weakened. But there has been a 50% drop in crime in the US since 1991, the stock market increased 148% under Obama, and the economy is currently growing faster than it was at the start of the last four presidential terms, among other factors.

Trump, meanwhile, spoke of:

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 unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

The “wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and redistributed all over the world,” Trump said, announcing “a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital and hall of power: From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. For this day forward its going to be only America first, America first.”

“America First” was used ahead of WWII by anti-Semitic groups in the US as a slogan, and the Anti-Defamation League warned Trump last year that “choosing a call to action historically associated with incivility and intolerance seems ill-advised.”

Trump pledged to that “every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” The speech indicates that Trump’s pledge to eliminate NAFTA, the two-decades-old trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, is not just idle talk. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” he said.

He promised to get Americans “off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor,” by following “two simple rules: buy American and hire American.”

Trump also had words for his political opponents, saying, “We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it,” in a possible reference to congressman John Lewis, whom Trump had referred to on Twitter as “all talk” and “no action,” after the civil rights leader questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election.

Trump also pledged to “eradicate completely from the face of the earth” radical Islamic terrorism.

As the new president spoke, thousands of protesters were gathered on the outskirts of the National Mall, demonstrating against Trump’s inauguration and expected policies.