WASHINGTON ― Many Democratic lawmakers who sat through President Donald Trump’s inaugural address Friday left feeling like he delivered a grim and frightening message to the world.
While they took note of Trump’s appeals to unity, their overall impression of the relatively brief 1,433-word speech was that he was talking about a world they do not live in.
“He described a very dire picture, which I don’t share,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “It was unnecessarily dark, and depressing. Usually a presidential speech is much more uplifting and inspiring.”
Trump described America as a place where politicians “celebrated in our nation’s capital, [but] there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”
He repeated his claims of rampant despair and raging crime, pledging, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,” although crime rates remain at historic lows.
“There were parts of it that were fine. I just didn’t realize we were that terrible,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
Trump’s declaration of a theme that should be heard in “every foreign capital” ― that the new vision of governing was “going to be America first” ― also rang some alarms.
“There’s no way to read that speech without thinking we are about to massively withdraw from the world stage,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “That frightens me, and it will probably be troubling to a lot of leaders around the world.”
Even some Republicans were, at least, bemused by the address.
“It was a little different than most inaugural addresses I’ve heard,” said Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who generally approved. “He was on the same message he gave throughout the campaign. And you could see he was speaking from his heart.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has had pointed disagreements with the new commander in chief, declined to say if he approved.
“It’s not whether I liked or disliked. It was a continuation of the campaign that won him the presidency,” McCain said, also declining to guess whether Trump’s inaugural message would heal any divides.
Trump’s thorough condemnation of the political classes in Washington did not sit well with many lawmakers. Democrats felt he was belittling the efforts of hardworking, well-intentioned people in public service. Some Republicans also seemed bothered.
“There were a lot of my colleagues sitting around me that were Republicans that were squirming when he painted such a broad brush that anybody who stood up for public service is only self-interested,” said McCaskill.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) appeared visibly bothered when asked about the bashing Trump delivered to dignitaries seated around and behind him. She offered a curt harumph before adding, “Well, we clearly have some work to do with him but that’s what the executive and Congress do. So we begin that today.”
Not every lawmaker was bothered by the criticism.
“My interpretation was, yes, he was pointing fingers behind him. He wants less whining and more activity. Good,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who came to Congress in 2010’s tea party wave.
Scott sounded like he wouldn’t mind ceding a little power.
“He’s talking about putting power back into the hands of the people. If you’re putting power back into the hands of the people, you got to take it out of somebody else’s hands,” Scott said. “Out of the hands he’s going to take it is 535 members of Congress.”
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) noted the darkness of the speech, but also looked to Trump’s reaffirmation of rebuilding infrastructure.
“It’s going to be an interesting four years,” Tester said.