WASHINGTON — Donald Trump began his presidency Friday with a speech that might have been ripped from his campaign trail Teleprompter: blunt talk of a weakened and bleeding nation that he will shock back into pride and prosperity.
In case anybody had not yet seen the memo, Trump made it clear that he will be a different kind of leader. He was not going to do poetry, implore Americans to hold hands, or appeal to "the better angels of our nature," as Abraham Lincoln did.
It was a combative speech aimed at his base of the aggrieved, whom Trump called the "forgotten men and women" in an echo of Franklin D. Roosevelt — American citizens betrayed for years by their own corrupt leaders, and U.S. entanglement in foreign wars and economies. He promised "America first," the slogan of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, a leading 1930s isolationist and onetime Nazi sympathizer.
Scholars describe the inaugural address as a prescribed ritual that has had certain common themes throughout U.S. history. A new president is expected to reach out to all Americans after the natural divisions of an election. He typically discusses common American values such as equality, freedom, or the founders' ideals; he discusses the principles of the new government; and he reassures the audience he has the gravitas for the fearsome responsibility.
Trump did make gestures to unity. "We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and rebuild its promise for all our people," he said near the beginning.
Later, Trump hit on the stark contrast between himself and the political establishment — much of which was on the stage around him — evoking the theme of ordinary Americans vs. the elite that brought him victory. "Everyone is listening to you now," Trump said.
"You can argue he's still talking to his base -- the 'you' he refers to still feels like the people in the crowd at his campaign rallies," said Vanessa B. Beasley, associate professor of communications at Vanderbilt University, who has written a book dissecting inaugural addresses.
Rhetorically, the speech sounded like bullet points or a series of tweets, Beasley said, a simple, direct formulation to convey Trump's seriousness about action. He spoke of "winning," jobs, and the need to "eradicate" radical Islamic terrorism.
He also described the United States as a hellish dystopia of problems, speaking of "carnage" in terms that echoed his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last July -- "mothers and children trapped in poverty ... rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones," and crime and gangs and drugs.
"His words speak of material things," Beasley said. "Most inaugural address are more abstract, philosophical."
Listening to Trump, it was easy to forget that unemployment is at 4.7 percent, crime is down, the financial markets are up, and productivity is on the rise.
In another stab at unity — "We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans" — he described a vision of nationalism that may comfort many, but terrified liberal opponents and many people of color during the campaign.
Trump argued that this nationalism will bring the country together. "At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other," he said. "A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights, and heal our divisions."
Will his actions going forward heal divisions or worsen them? As the new president spoke, the sound of protesters at the edge of the crowd and supporters chanting "Trump!" and "USA!" washed over the stage. Police clashed with some activists on the streets, and nearly 100 were arrested.
"I was stunned that he showed a complete lack of civility and grace, didn't try to reach out to his opponents," said Democratic strategist Daniel F. McElhatton, based in Philadelphia. "I didn't think he'd reject our commonality so much."
Trump entered the Oval Office as the most unpopular president in four decades. Just 40 percent of Americans say they have a favorable impression of him, and 54 percent view him unfavorably — with 41 percent saying they have a strongly unfavorable impression of him, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll this week.
President Obama was viewed favorably by about eight in 10 voters when he took office. Bill Clinton had nearly 70 percent approval, while George H.W. Bush had 65. Even George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote and won the presidency after a protracted court battle, started off with an approval rating of 62 percent.
Traditionally, a high approval rating is thought to give a president leverage in negotiating with Congress, making lawmakers loath to cross the public, and a low rating is thought to show weakness. But Trump's advisers have argued that he rewrote many rules of politics on his rise to the presidency. Maybe things like polling ups and downs don't matter as much anymore.