Inaugural addresses tend to be conciliatory and uplifting. Marking the transfer of power after the end of a heated campaign, these speeches are usually seen as a way of healing the country and rallying its people by reminding us all of our shared values.
By those measures, Donald Trump's speech was anything but traditional. Trump didn't speak for long — 18 minutes or so — but the message he sent was clear: Politics, politicians and the entire political class don't care about you and never have. I do. Things are bad, bordering on terrible right now. I will fix them. All of them.
This passage, from early in Trump's speech, was telling:
The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. 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. That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you.
Trump didn't reserve that ire and condemnation just for Democrats. He also lumped Republicans in as part of the problem. "What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people," he said.
The image Trump painted of the America he was taking over was a decidedly dystopic one. Consider this passage:
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 unrealized potential.
That's a remarkably dark view of America — particularly for a speech that has long been focused on lifting our collective eyes to the horizon to see the brighter days that await.
But the whole "hope and change" thing was never really Trump's bag. And we shouldn't be surprised that his inaugural speech broke the mold. It's what he does.
Trump pitched his candidacy — considered a punchline or, at best, a long shot for much of the past two years — as a middle finger to the Republican Party establishment. They think they know better than you, he was saying. They think Jeb Bush is who you want to represent you. I know better.
And he did. Everything Trump said and did in those early days of the race — saying he preferred his war heroes not captured, picking a fight with Fox News Channel and then Megyn Kelly — was aimed at affirming this simple message: Politics ain't never seen anything like me.
While official Washington gasped, regular folks cheered. They too hated politics and politicians and were fed up with getting a half loaf (or less) and being told to just be happy they got anything at all. They didn't really care that Trump said uncouth things or promised the world. His willingness to just say stuff showed just how far removed he was from being a politician and, as for the wild promises he made, well, all politicians make those.
From that moment to this one, the one truly consistent thread in Trump's rhetoric has been how politics is broken, how that break is ruining our country and how he is the only one who can fix it. Niceties need to step aside because niceties got us in the hole we currently find ourselves buried in. If electing more blow-dried politicians was the answer, our problems would already be fixed.
"We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining but never doing anything about it," Trump said near the end of his inaugural address. "The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action."
Trump's speech functioned as that call to action, positing his election as the leading edge of an effort to overthrow Washington and all of its politicians to put the people back in charge. It was a combative speech designed to match the necessary combativeness of the times. It was a speech that will thrill Trump's supporters and terrify Trump's opponents.
It was, in a word, Trumpian.