Editorial: Trump takes place in history

  • The U.S. Capitol looms over a stage during a rehearsal of the President-elect Donald Trump's swearing-in ceremony, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Published: 1/19/2017 10:00:03 PM

Inaugural speeches are meant to frame the times, to offer hope, and to serve as a guide to the challenges we’re certain to face. More often, though, they’re better understood through the lens of history.

Today, we’ll witness the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our democracy since Washington’s inaugural speech well over two centuries ago. With President Trump’s inaugural address will also come ideals and promises that we won’t be able to fully measure until the day he leaves office, and beyond.

Still, we’ll listen to his words through the limits of our modern imaginations, and we’ll wait for history to take its course. In the meantime, we’ve gone through the inaugural archives to offer bits and pieces of addresses from key moments in American history.

George Washington, April 30, 1789: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”

Thomas Jefferson, March 4, 1802: “And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”

Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861: “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, March 4, 1933: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.”

John F. Kennedy, Jan. 20, 1961: “To those peoples in the huts and villages across the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required – not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Richard Nixon: Jan. 20, 1969: “In these difficult years, America has suffered from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading. We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another – until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

Ronald Reagan: Jan. 20, 1981: “We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen, and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they are sick, and provide opportunities to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?”

Bill Clinton, Jan. 20, 1993: “Communications and commerce are global; investment is mobile; technology is almost magical; and ambition for a better life is now universal. We earn our livelihood in peaceful competition with people all across the earth. Profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking our world, and the urgent question of our time is whether we can make change our friend and not our enemy.”

George W. Bush, Jan. 20, 2001: “Together, we will reclaim America’s schools, before ignorance and apathy claim more young lives; we will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing our children from struggles we have the power to prevent; we will reduce taxes, to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans; we will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge; and we will confront weapons of mass destruction, so that a new century is spared new horrors.”

Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2009: “Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”




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