Donald Trump ramped up preparations for his presidential inauguration Thursday, working with aides on an historic address that will be seen as a cornerstone of his administration.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the mogul-turned-politico will spend the day at his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago discussing and running through drafts of the January 20 speech with top aides.
An inaugural address is a starting gun for any US presidency and has come to define some of the men who have held the Oval Office.
It was on the inaugural stage that John F. Kennedy stridently declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” making him the figurehead of a generational shift that defined the 1960s.
Kennedy also told Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” stirring a sense of national service that remains to this day.
In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt whipped up confidence in a nation reeling from the deprivations of the Great Depression by insisting “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
And Abraham Lincoln tried to the heal the wounds of the Civil War by urging Americans to approach the future “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”
To help frame his own message, Trump has called in historian Douglas Brinkley and long-time aides like controversial right-wing figure Steve Bannon.
On Wednesday, Brinkley and Trump met in Florida to discuss “a sort of history of the presidency and past inaugurals,” the historian said.
There was also a discussion of some bold presidential promises.
“He was very interested in a man going to the moon and the moon shot, so we were talking a little bit about that” Brinkley said, referencing Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon during another speech at Rice University.
But Trump’s speech in three weeks will not just be a measure of his policies — it will be seen as a monumental test of his oratorical skills and of his ability to lift Americans’ gaze above the horizon.
The idiosyncratic 70-year-old property developer is often more comfortable talking about himself and rallying die-hard supporters on the fly than delivering a pre-written address.
One notable exception was his acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Cleveland, which vividly painted the world as Trump sees it.
The main author that day, and for the inaugural address, will be Stephen Miller, a young Californian and former aide to attorney general-designate Jeff Sessions.
For Trump’s July nomination acceptance speech, Miller looked to Richard Nixon’s address at the Republican National Convention in 1968.
What he saw was a speech that had an unvarnished — even bleak — view of the United States.
“As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame,” Nixon said. “We hear sirens in the night.”
Trump tapped that same sense of malaise in Cleveland more than four decades later, telling the party faithful that their “convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation.”
“The attacks on our police, and the terrorism of our cities, threaten our very way of life,” he said.
Nixon’s prescription was “new leadership for America.” Trump’s prescription was rejecting “the same politicians” who he said had caused the damage in the first place.
“I am your voice” Trump said, “I alone can fix it.”
For the inaugural address, Trump and Miller may look less to the optimism of Kennedy, Lincoln or Roosevelt and more to the “real talk” of Ronald Reagan.
In 1981, Reagan began his address by thanking his predecessor before getting down to business.
“These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions,” he said, pledging to reform the tax system and unleash free enterprise — issues that became the hallmarks of his eight years in office.
“The government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” he said.
Trump confidants say he has not yet settled on an overarching theme for his inaugural address, but unleashing business to fix an economy Trump sees as broken is unlikely to be far from the top of the list.