Originally published in the Tampa Bay Times.
Let’s assume (but not entirely rule out) that President-elect Donald Trump will choose not to confine his inaugural speech to 140 characters via Twitter, in a tweet to beat all tweets.
So what should we be looking for, hoping for, rooting for?
A call to arms grounded in returning American leadership and courage to the world stage?
A kinetic shot of adrenalin to rally the nation’s confidence after years of political drift and public disappointment?
How about a communal pat on the back, a kumbaya moment that has the doubters doubting whether they somehow missed a harbinger of hope in the dawning Age of Trump?
Or will it be something purposely less theatrical and more direct?
As Trump prepares to show us which way he has chosen, here are a few tidbits from the inaugural speech primer to help guide the interested, inform the intrigued and still the restless.
For starters, it’s a pageant of presidential ascension ingrained in the Constitution and embedded in the fabric of our nation’s history. Consider the ceremony itself as a rite of passage that’s extended (some would say surrendered) from one leader to the next, generally from party to party, as America evolves from generation to generation.
The honor of the first and shortest inaugural speech in history (135 words) belongs to George Washington, who clearly felt it was more important to establish a fledgling new democracy than a record for lengthy rhetoric.
The same wouldn’t suffice for William Henry Harrison, America’s ninth president, who delivered an 8,400-word inaugural tome over more than two hours in subfreezing temperatures. Thirty days later, he paid for his labors and succumbed to pneumonia.
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified just before Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, assured cold weather and hot one-liners. The swearing-in date was moved from the moderation of mid March to the balminess of Washington in mid January.
Before and afterward, the American audience had been treated to some memorable morsels of oratorical splendor.
Woodrow Wilson implored Americans to become “citizens of the world” to lead a new world order.
FDR called for courage in the face of the Great Depression by declaring “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
John F. Kennedy spoke of vision and responsibility with his timeless “ask not what you can do …” line. Ronald Reagan delivered the pre-Brexit, pre-Trump message that “government’s not the solution … it’s the problem.”
Which brings us to the man of the moment, the leader who broke every political norm and convention. Trump is about to address the nation for the first time as commander in chief.
His tone should match his persona — candid, straight out and straight on — while invoking common cause on common ground. That freedom is not a given, and that we must remain a nation of opportunity for all. That the system has failed to assure us, or protect us from threats “foreign or domestic.”
Trump should channel Reagan’s assault on the status quo and adopt FDR’s Depression-busting plea for “action, and action now.” His should be a call for civility amid our nation’s current state of political and partisan pettiness.
As Thomas Jefferson invoked in his inaugural address, “every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
When Trump stands before us that day, challenging the system on behalf of the people, we will bear witness to the world premiere of the Trump Doctrine — one that says we will invest in America, and American jobs are a national imperative.
One that says we will lead from the front, not from behind, armed with commitment and absent of apology.
One that says we will protect American lives against threats here and abroad, without seeking approval from the media and intellectual elites who are still smarting over the last election.
And, more than anything, the new Trump Doctrine will be restless and relentless, grounded in urgency that disparages talk in favor of action and democracy instead of deference to bureaucracy.
FDR used the New Deal to transform the heartache of an American Depression into the hope that drove generations of prosperity.
Trump will use his inaugural moment to introduce America to something equally dynamic: the “Now Deal.”
Better health care now.
Given how long we’ve waited, these words, this speech, and this moment promises to warm a lot of hearts on a very cold day in a nation long yearning to experience better days.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in Tampa who has created, directed and produced media for more than 300 GOP candidates in 46 states over the past 35 years. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.