By Katherine Gregg,
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Most of the inaugural speeches that U.S. Sen. Jack Reed recalls hearing in the past were “conscious efforts to bring the country together and celebrate Democracy” after more-or-less bruising elections.
Not so on this Inauguration Day, according to Democrat Reed of Rhode Island who was there.
Reed said the campaign-like speech that new President Donald J. Trump gave after taking the oath of office lacked the “usual modesty and humility” of past speeches by newly inaugurated presidents facing “the incredible responsibilities of the office, and asking for the help of all Americans.”
He said it was, to his ears, “harsh in its terms…strident…belligerent…hyperbolic…[and] egocentric.”
As an example, Reed cited Trump’s “hyperbolic” statement: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
“Rather extreme,” said Reed. “We have serious challenges…but we are coming off of over 70 months of strong job growth. We are beginning to see wage growth. There is a lot more to be done, but I think that was a little more hyperbole than was in order.”
Reed said he was also struck by Trump’s “two simple rules: buy American and hire American.”
“His investment career suggests that he didn’t do those things. He used foreign material to build casinos, and there’s I think verified reports of using people from overseas to do work. So, again, it seemed to be: do what I say not what I’ve done.”
Reed said Trump must also know that his repetition of the phrase “America First” – and the echoes it evokes of aviator Charles Lindbergh and U.S. isolationism – may be “interpreted by our allies as a departure from a policy that has given us a great deal of … leverage in the world…”
That phrase, he said complicates “our ability to help allies [and] deter as well as help defeat threats to the United States.”
U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said: “Sadly, I think President Trump squandered an opportunity to reach out to the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for him last November with a strong message that would have helped to unite our country.
“Instead, he doubled down on divisive rhetoric, false bravado, and gaudy promises that have no basis in reality. The President painted an unnecessarily dark and negative picture of America.”
“I will continue working with members of both parties to deliver results for Rhode Island. I hope President Trump will do the same,” Cicilline said. But if he “continue(s) down the path he started today, dividing Americans and offering empty promises instead of real solutions, then I will continue to fight him every step of the way.”
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse added:
“As we observe the peaceful transfer of power, I’m grateful today to President Obama for his service to our country, and for the unfailing dignity and grace he and his family brought to the White House.”
“Leader Schumer today shared with our nation the noble words of Smithfield-born Sullivan Ballou, Major of the Second Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry, made famous in Ken Burns’ PBS series, “The Civil War.” Major Ballou, who was killed in action shortly after writing that beautiful letter, described a love of country so strong that it justified great sacrifice to heal its deep divisions.”
“Our new President’s dark inaugural speech did little to inspire hope that he is ready to bring our nation together. I will work to find areas of common ground with the President where they serve the interests of Rhode Islanders, but I plan to hold him to his election night promise to be a “president for all Americans.”
“I will stand up at every turn for the freedoms and values secured by Americans like Sullivan Ballou. Those shared values are what have for centuries made our nation a beacon in the world.”
But Reed said he planned to vote, later Friday, in the U.S. Senate for two of Trump’s nominees who he views as good choices: retired General James N. Mattis as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
U.S. Rep. James Langevin, meanwhile, chose to focus on Trump’s comments about “investments in infrastructure and the American workforce…I am hopeful that these are examples of issues on which we can find bipartisan cooperation. The devil is in the details, though, so it remains to be seen where we may find common ground.”
“The most important takeaway, for me, today, is that it’s time to get back to work. The promise of this nation is that all people are created and treated equally, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or identity, or disability. Ensuring equal opportunity for all is essential to our democracy, and I look forward to tomorrow’s Women’s March in Providence to hear from my constituents about their ideas for how best to preserve that promise.”