Donald Trump's battle cry

Story highlights

  • David Gergen: Speech was angry decree aimed at his supporters, no cry for unity
  • He says calls for protectionism likely caused great concern overseas

David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been a White House adviser to four presidents. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service and co-director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Follow him on Twitter: @david_gergen. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Donald Trump's inaugural address was less of a speech than a battle cry -- an angry denunciation of America's political elites and a decree that under his leadership, the people will stage a virtual revolution. We haven't heard anything like this in modern times.

The address surely heartened the millions of followers Trump has mobilized across the country. He made clear to them he would be the same leader in the White House as on the campaign trail. He isn't changing, and they love him for it. But it was that very realization -- that he isn't changing -- that left millions of other Americans in despair, stunned and appalled.
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In his address, Trump simply dropped some traditions of the past. Gone was a call to political opponents to join hands and work together; gone was the racial and ethnic diversity that we have seen in recent inaugurals, giving way to a sea of white faces and red hats. (At first, he also appeared to make a faux pas in neglecting to mention Hillary Clinton, but he made up for it with a salute at lunch.)
His audience on the National Mall lapped up Trump's address. They feel -- with legitimacy -- that blue-collar workers, especially in rural areas, have been overlooked for too long and for decades haven't shared in the economic gains of the country. They have lost much of their confidence in the establishment, and Trump has given them a voice. This was their day as much as Trump's.
But for all his admirers here in Washington, there are tons of opponents, too. They promise that "The Resistance" starts this weekend on the streets of the US capital and in cities around the country with demonstrations for women's rights. Where was his concern for women's equity in his inaugural? they are asking. Why did he fail to mention health care when he wants to wipe out Obamacare? Why does he always exaggerate, using descriptions such "carnage" to make his point?
Trump's speech did nothing to diminish their alienation. His supporters would argue that a fair reading of the speech would suggest it wasn't as sharply worded as critics say; that is true, but for his critics, the hard-hitting way he delivered it made it seem borderline authoritarian. One wonders how much two of his advisers, Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, had in the speech; they are known for a dark vision of the country's establishment.
Sadly, the reaction overseas is likely to be worse than here at home. Governments in Europe, Asia and in many other regions have been rattled over past months by Trump's dismissal of NATO and the European Union, his promises of trade fights with China and Mexico, and his cozying up to Russia's Vladimir Putin. They have been anxiously waiting to see whether his positions were just campaign fodder, not to be taken seriously.
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Fears have escalated in recent days as he and his team have dropped serious hints they plan to follow through on trade threats as well as a wall and on moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. His inaugural address did little to dispel those fears, and in fact strengthened his economic threats when he declared: "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."
In short, Trump's inaugural, tough and unyielding, will be long cheered by his millions of supporters. But, by design, it will never be remembered as a call to unity. Trump threw down the gauntlet to the establishment -- hard. We are entering a new, uncertain and perilous era in American public life.