President Donald Trump’s inaugural speech and first few executive actions in office gave no quarter to those who believed that he would prioritize unification of the country over politics once he got the key to the Oval Office and beheld the gravity of his new job as leader of all Americans and of the entire free world.
Instead, the new president unapologetically used the new stage to promise his supporters that he will not be knocked off the course he laid out in his campaign, neither by political opponents nor by the institutional counterweight of Washington, D.C. Trump’s inauguration simply seemed to re-animate the tableau that had formed on Election Day and lay in suspended animation since then: of a leader committed to carrying out some of the clearest campaign promises ever made.
“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said in one of the many clear articulations of his plans that were included in the inaugural of the 45th president. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”
Trump said nothing in the speech about how he would help American business directly, apparently preferring to let his initial executive orders and first actions on policy priorities do the talking for him. And through those, he certainly did so even before the weekend, moving to set up meetings with leaders from Mexico and Canada on North American trade relations, hosting UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday for new trade talks with London, signing an executive order to “seek the prompt repeal” of Obamacare, and teeing up anticipation of more unilateral actions early this week, including one to reverse restrictions on carbon emissions from energy production that had been imposed by President Obama.
But President Trump did make it clear to CEOs that he would follow policies meant to “rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people,” focusing on regenerating U.S. jobs, renewing the wealth of the American middle class, rebuilding transportation infrastructure and inner cities, and protecting national borders both literal and figurative.
“We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American,” Trump said in his inaugural address. It was as if, instead of standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol addressing both the live inaugural attendees and Americans of all stripes watching on television, Trump was still at a campaign rally somewhere in rural Pennsylvania or suburban Wisconsin.
At least one CEO seemed to get it even before inaugural-cleanup crews at the Capitol had stacked up all the dignitaries’ chairs: Anthony Pratt, executive chairman of Pratt Industries, took out a one-page advertisement in Monday’s Wall Street Journal in which he noted that the company “employs 6,000 Americans in well-paying manufacturing jobs and invited President Trump and Vice President Pence to join “a national conversation about how to double the ale of the American food production industry” and “in the process create millions of new American jobs.”
There was no clarion call however in the speech for freeing American business from its shackles of high corporate tax rates and extreme regulations on business, both of which had been significant economic themes of Trump’s campaign. There was no mention of reversing Dodd-Frank’s financial-regulation regime or of reducing the EPA’s hold on Big Coal.
Instead, with his very clear choice of priorities in his speech, President Trump seemed to be saying to America’s CEOs that he expects them to do their part right away to support his nationalist agenda, with only the implication of the “quid” part of quid pro quo.
And in that way, his speech served to endorse the actions that many CEOs have been taking over the last few months to reconsider their companies’ manufacturing investments in Mexico and their plans for expansion of U.S. jobs. No one knows exactly how far President Trump will take his thrust, but there’s no doubt at this point that it’s not just another empty campaign promise.