Trump Inaugural Address More A List Than Ideas | WGLT

Trump Inaugural Address More A List Than Ideas

Jan 23, 2017

Vanderbilt professor Dr. Vanessa Beasley speaking during Sound Ideas, Monday Jan. 23, 2017
Credit Staff

Many presidential inaugurals aspire Americans to do great things, think great ideas. Donald Trump's speech seemed to vary significantly from that theme.

That's according to Dr. Vanessa Beasley, associate professor and dean of Ingram Commons at Vanderbilt University. For more than 30 years, she has studied inaugural addresses of all presidents. Beasley was at Illinois State University to deliver remarks Monday night at 7 p.m. at Capen Auditorium in Edwards Hall. Her speech is titled, "Washington and this First Official Act: What An Inaugural Address Means Now."

"In the second half of the speech, I think he was trying to be aspirational, where the team was laying out its specific and less-policy goals. The difference when you compare Trump's speech to other inaugurals is it was more like a list there at the end with less sort-of philosophical embellishment about why these goals are important and consistent with larger American values," Beasley said during an appearance on Sound Ideas.

"His speech didn't really have what you would call aerial coverage as we might have imagined that it would," Beasley added. She said she expected he would have tried to situate his vision and administration in a larger, big-picture, understanding of what the American mission is.

"It's unusual for a speech to be this detailed, and it strikes me as more of an extension of the campaign," Beasley said. "It could have been a conscious choice. Obviously part of his campaign slogan is that he would be different. It's possible his team looked at the tradition in the broadest rhetorical sense and decided 'this is where we signal that things are going to be different,'" she added.

Beasley said one of the speeches Trump's address compares to, according to many, is Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural address. Reagan was elected as part of a landslide movement away from Washington "politics as usual" and perceived his mandate as one of historical change.

Dr. Vanessa Beasley speaks at ISU Monday night Jan. 23, 2016 about presidential inaugural addresses
Credit ISU School of Communication

"This comparison might be fair in the broad sense, but it's not fair in terms of the inaugural address," she said. "Reagan talked in more philosophical terms about what he saw as the American purpose and a restoration of a particular kind of value set within the American public sphere. Reagan also talked a lot about how his plans would impact individual people. Trump has those notes but there's a note and he moves on to something else. Reagan was great at story-telling about individuals, less so in inaugurals than in other speeches," Beasley added.