Trump’s inaugural address set apart from Obama, Bush by protectionist theme, dark imagery

An American president’s inaugural address sets the tone for his term, announcing — without the weight of fishing for votes — how he intends to lead the country.

President Donald Trump wasted little time turning to a populist and anti-establishment tone, a tone with which anyone who watched him on the campaign trail would be familiar.

“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,”

Trump said one breath after thanking Barack and Michelle Obama for their work.

Trump said there had been little for Americans to celebrate over the past number of years, while politicians protected themselves and prospered on the backs of struggling families.

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READ MORE: President Donald Trump vows to put ‘America first’ in inaugural address

“That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you,” he said.

The tone he used in this address was different than that of the two previous presidents’ first inaugural addresses.

WATCH: Former President Obama speaks to supporters

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Trump inauguration: Former President Obama speaks to supporters – Jan 20, 2017

Obama spent much of his 2009 speech talking about immigrants to the United States, about the diversity of the country and the strength both afford to its citizens.

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given,” he said.

“It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.”

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READ MORE: Presidential inauguration 2017 by the numbers

In his plea to American citizens, Obama asked them to recognize the responsibilities they have to themselves, their country and to the world.

President Barack Obama, (aired January 20, 2009). photo: Steve Fenn/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection. Steve Fenn / ABC / Courtesy: Everett Collection

George W. Bush, whose first inaugural address predated 9/11 by mere months, leaned heavily on religious imagery, pledging to build a nation of justice and opportunity, to reform Medicare and improve the nation’s schools.

WATCH: Donald Trump takes oath of office

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Trump inauguration: Donald Trump takes oath of office – Jan 20, 2017

Drawing on the biblical story of the traveller on the road to Jericho, Bush appealed for people to strive to live a just life.

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“Never tiring, never yielding, never finishing, we renew that purpose today, to make our country more just and generous, to affirm the dignity of our lives and every life,” he said.

“I know this is in our reach because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image.”

George W. Bush takes the oath of office from Chief Justice William Rehnquist to become the 43rd president Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001, in Washington. (AP Photo/Doug Mills). AP Photo/Doug Mills


Trump’s address, by comparison, was filled with dark imagery.

He spoke of mothers and children trapped in poverty and “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” He said the education system leaves “our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge,” and told Americans “this carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

And instead of bringing the American message of inclusiveness and diversity to the world, as Obama spoke of, Trump said every decision he takes will be to benefit Americans and only Americans.

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WATCH: Comparing the size of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration to Obama’s 

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Trump Inauguration: Size comparison of Trump vs. Obama crowds – Jan 20, 2017


“Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength,” he said. “I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never, ever let you down.”

Trump, like his predecessors, did make allusions to God. But whereas in Bush’s speech religion was a thread throughout, Trump’s speech was only peppered with references.

Rather than drawing on the power of a deity, Trump called on Americans to draw on their own power created by patriotism.

READ MORE: Donald Trump’s cabinet heavy on business experience, fairly light on public service


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“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. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice,” he said.

“It’s 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.”

With files from Global News’ Leslie Young

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