President Elect Donald Trump will be sworn in to office Friday as America's 45th president on the west front of the U.S. Capitol before thousands of supporters and millions watching on television around the world. The peaceful transition of power will symbolize the strength of the American democracy.
Perhaps equally important will be what President Trump has to say in his inaugural address. The nation has been deeply divided for decades by partisan politics; the world has been roiled with regional conflicts and the growing threat of terrorism. Will the newly sworn in president speak of his genuine interest for uniting the country, which is rich with diverse cultures and beliefs? Will he clearly identify the legitimate threats, foreign and domestic, facing the nation, and assure even his most strident opponents that he has the temperament and character to lead the country?
Many of his predecessors used their inaugural address to set a tone for their presidency. In his first address, President Thomas Jefferson said, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have been called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."
Following a great Civil War President Lincoln sought to heal the nation's wounds in his second inaugural address. "With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds," he said. "To do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to a nation crippled by the Great Depression. "This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," Roosevelt intoned. "In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with the understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory."
As the nation was still recovering from World War II, it elected a war hero as its president. In his first inaugural address President Dwight Eisenhower said, "We are summoned to act in wisdom and in conscience, to work with industry, to teach with persuasion, to preach with conviction, to weigh every deed with care and compassion. For this truth must be clear before us: whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America."
President John F. Kennedy, who was elected in 1960 in a close election, sought to mobilize young idealistic citizens with his stirring oration. "Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," he declared. "The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."
President Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide in 1980 as the country was reeling from inflation, high unemployment and gasoline prices, and a crisis of confidence. "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem," he maintained in his first inaugural address. "We are a nation that has a government--not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the earth. Our government has no power except that granted by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed."
President Barack Obama was the first African American elected to the nation's highest office. The deeply divided country was mired in two costly wars, was experiencing its worst economic recession in nearly one hundred years, and was split along party lines. A massive crowd of 1.8 million people attended his swearing in, which was watched by a record audience around the globe. "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." He continued, "On this day, we come to proclaim and end to petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics."
Despite the soaring rhetoric, many presidents were not able to achieve all of their goals. But President Trump's inaugural speech comes at an important time in this nation's history. He will face enormous challenges, domestic and foreign. The election is over, and while he finished second in the popular vote, he won the presidency. And while the Russians meddled in the election, he was the winner.
The American presidency is the most powerful office in the world. Now it is time for President Trump to actually govern. Now it is time for him to end his personal insults, his impulsive and boorish behavior. Now it is the time for an end to his Twitter rants, or tirades against the press. Now it is time for him to praise U.S. intelligent agencies and their courageous employees, and to praise America's allies and support its alliances.
Now it is time for President Trump to act presidential. Too much is a stake.