As he leaves office as the only twice-impeached U.S. president, Trump portrayed his political phenomenon as a unifying one, as opposed to the vitriolic, partisan warfare he engaged in throughout his presidency and campaign. And with the memory of his supporters swarming the Capitol in a deadly attack fresh in the nation’s conscience, the president used the address to try to reframe his legacy as a rosier picture of his time in office.
“We restored the idea that in America, no one is forgotten — because everyone matters and everyone has a voice,” Trump said. “Our agenda was not about right or left, it wasn’t about Republican or Democrat, but about the good of a nation, and that means the whole nation.
Trump hailed his presidency as a time when Americans were able to disagree and government was responsible to the people — a repackaging of Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp” that is at odds with a record of direct attacks on Democrats and the media as enemies of the people. He also went after so-called cancel culture and “political censorship” as un-American, echoing a common Republican talking point as social media platforms increasingly crack down on misinformation.
Trump promoted several of the administration’s policy talking points, from the creation of the U.S. Space Force to increased border enforcement. He cited his administration’s role in the freshly established diplomatic relations between Israel and a number of Arab states as proof of his commitment to peace. He also took credit for the rapid development of the coronavirus vaccine, saying: “Another administration would have taken three, four, five maybe up to 10 years to develop a vaccine. We did it in nine months.”
The president also signaled that he had no intention of letting the movement peter out, even as Democrats take control of the White House and Senate this week. After Trump wished goodwill to President-elect Joe Biden, he tacked on that “the movement we started is only just beginning.”
“I go from this majestic place with a loyal and joyful heart, an optimistic spirit, and a supreme confidence that for our country and for our children, the best is yet to come,” Trump said.
Trump’s political future, however, may be at risk. After the House voted last Wednesday to impeach him on a charge of willfully inciting an insurrection, the Senate can vote to permanently bar him from holding public office as part of its upcoming impeachment trial.
His fellow Republicans in the upper chamber have not shown much enthusiasm for stopping that prospect — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared to hold Trump responsible for the violent Capitol attack, which left five people dead. And with 10 House Republicans voting to support the charge against him, it was the most bipartisan impeachment vote in U.S. history.
Still, Trump continued to wash his hands of responsibility for the Capitol attack in Tuesday’s comments, condemning violence as against his movement, even though several of the rioters who broke into the building said they were heeding a call from the president himself.
“All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol,” he said. “Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”
The message follows similar statements he has made in the weeks following the Capitol attack — particularly after his second impeachment — in which he openly denounced the violence. But during the attack, Trump tweeted messages of support for the rioters, saying that “we love you” and that “you’re very special.”
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted at the time. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Trump has since been permanently banned from Twitter for glorifying violence.
MATTHEW CHOI I Politico