At 11:30 today, Donald Trump will say the 35 words required by the United States Constitution — swearing on both the Bible used in Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and a Bible his mother gave Trump when he graduated from Sunday school in 1955 — and then, according to tradition, the new President will give an inaugural address.
I think the speech will be worth watching, or reading — not so much for what Mr. Trump says, but more for how he says it.
I think everyone would agree on one thing about Trump: he’s not a conventional political speaker. Most politicians employ speechwriters who draft carefully prepared remarks that are edited and polished to the nth degree and that strive to create memorable phrases that can be quoted by the press. Trump doesn’t do that. In the remarks I’ve seen him deliver, he doesn’t appear to follow a written speech, or even use a teleprompter. Trump seems much more comfortable with Twitter, or with getting up to the podium with a few concepts in mind that he presents in a straightforward, conversational way, often repeating the same points several times during his remarks and mixing them in with observations about what he saw on TV last night or read in the paper that morning.
In the history of the United States, there have been a few memorable inaugural addresses and lots of totally forgettable ones — does anyone remember what Richard Nixon, for example, said in his first inaugural address? — but all of them have followed the pattern of a conventional political speech, where the newly sworn Chief Executive tries to inspire Americans with his vision for the country and present some enduring rhetoric. Will Trump follow that pattern, or will he break from the mold in this instance as he has done so often in the past?
It’s hard to imagine Donald Trump trying to deliver the kind of lengthy, formal, scripted address that we’ve seen at other presidential inaugurations. I’ll be interested to see if he even tries, or if he decides to go in a different direction altogether.