The president never mentioned his successor by name during his last address, in which he also seemed to take a veiled swing at Big Tech by decrying “political censorship and blacklisting.”
WASHINGTON (CN) — In a nearly 20-minute video released Tuesday afternoon, outgoing President Donald Trump touted the accomplishments of his administration and deflected responsibility for an insurrectionist attack at the U.S. Capitol two weeks ago.
“All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol,” Trump said. “Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated. Now more than ever we must unify around our shared values and rise above the partisan rancor and forge our common destiny.”
In the final days of his presidency – during which he became the first president ever impeached twice – lawmakers have assigned the most vitriolic of that partisan rhetoric to Trump himself. With their impeachment vote last week, House members formally accused the president of inciting his supporters into a frenzy, which sent them charging towards the U.S. Capitol in an event that would claim the lives of five people.
In his farewell speech, the president urged Americans to focus on our shared heritage. He said at the center of that heritage is “a robust belief in free expression, free speech, and open debate,” taking what appeared to be a veiled swing at Big Tech. Trump was banned from his preferred social media platform, Twitter, in the wake of the Capitol insurrection, and has also been suspended on Facebook.
“Only if we forget who we are, and how we got here, could we ever allow political censorship and blacklisting to take place in America. It’s not even thinkable. Shutting down free and open debate violates our core values and most enduring traditions,” he said.
He added that “America is not a timid nation of tame souls who need to be sheltered and protected from those with whom we disagree.”
Trump’s final address never mentioned his successor by name, and it came just hours before a ceremony honoring the peaceful transition of power that he refuses to attend. When Trump’s Twitter account was still active two weeks ago, he confirmed he would not be attending President-elect Joe Biden’ inauguration on Wednesday.
Trump will be the first sitting president to refuse to attend his successor’s swearing-in since Andrew Johnson in 1869. Before that, John Quincy Adams skipped Andrew Jackson’s inauguration in 1829, and Adams’ father John Adams skipped Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 ceremony.
Before heading to his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, the 45th president is expected to hold a small sendoff ceremony on Wednesday morning, though details of the event are still foggy.
Trump said in his farewell speech that becoming the leader of the country was like stepping into “a very difficult arena, but an arena nevertheless with all sorts of potential, if properly done.” He noted that four years ago, he and his family came to Washington as outsiders, not career politicians, because “there were towering new summits for America just waiting to be scaled.”
“Together with millions of hardworking patriots across this land, we built the greatest political movement in the history of our country,” Trump said. “We also built the greatest economy in the history of our world. … We restored the principle that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”
Lauding a laundry list of policies – including trade restrictions against China and others, and the 2017 tax cuts – Trump ignored the shortcomings of his administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic that reached a U.S. death toll of 400,000 on his final day. Instead, he applauded the “medical miracle” that produced several Covid-19 vaccines and focused more on the recovery of the U.S. economy.
“When the virus took its brutal toll on the world’s economy, we launched the fastest economic recovery our county has ever seen,” Trump said. “We passed nearly $4 trillion in economic relief, saved or supported over 50 million jobs, and slashed the unemployment rate in half.”
Trump also expressed pride in being “the first president in decades who has started no new wars.” While it is true he did not ask Congress for military support throughout his tenure, he did little to calm tensions between America and her adversaries.
For example, Trump failed to deescalate the situation in the Korean Peninsula despite several high-profile meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He also withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal during his first months in office and ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, which prompted Congress to restrict Trump’s war powers against the country.
While Trump didn’t mention Biden by name, he started his speech by wishing the “new administration” success and luck. He ended, however, with a nod to his ardent supporters.
“Now, as I prepare to hand power over to a new administration at noon on Wednesday, I want you to know that the movement we started is only just beginning,” Trump said. “There’s never been anything like it.”