Simon Lancaster: How I accidentally wrote Donald Trump's inauguration speech

Written by Simon Lancaster on 23 January 2017 in Opinion

The president's speech was overladen with all of the rhetorical devices that I advised him to use.

As I watched President Trump’s inauguration speech on Friday, I was struck by the most blood-chilling thought. I think I helped write it.

Nine months ago, I gave a TEDx talk in Verona setting out how anyone could speak like a leader using six ancient rhetorical techniques: breathless sentences, repetitions, contrasts, metaphor, exaggeration and rhyme – compounded with the rule of three.

I didn’t intend that the next President of the United States would follow my advice but I think he must have done because, apart from literally a couple of sentences in the speech which could be counted as essential tribute (to past Presidents and God) every single sentence in the speech utilizes one of these devices and some of the more florid sentences in the speech use as many as four devices at once!

Here’s his inauguration speech with rhetorical devices annotated, starting from just after he’s dispensed with the formalities.

Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning because today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another – but transferring it from Washington DC and giving it back to you the people. (CONTRAST)

For too long a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. (CONTRAST)

Washington flourished but the people did not share in its wealth. (CONTRAST)

Politicians prospered but the jobs left and the factories closed. (CONTRAST)

The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country. (CONTRAST)

Their victories have not been your victories. (CONTRAST)

Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. (REPETITION AND CONTRAST)

While they have celebrated there has been little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. (CONTRAST)

That all changes starting right here and right now (CONTRAST) because this moment is your moment (CONTRAST).

It belongs to you (REPETITION). It belongs to everyone gathered here today and everyone watching all across America today (REPETITION AND CONTRAST).

This is your day. This is your celebration. And this – the United States of America – is your country. (REPETITION AND RULE OF THREE)

What truly matters is not what party controls our government but that this government is controlled by the people. (CONTRAST)

Today, January 20 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. (EXAGGERATION)

The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer (CONTRAST).

Everyone is listening to you now (EXAGGERATION).

You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement –  the likes of which the world has never seen before (METAPHOR).

At the centre of this movement is a crucial conviction – that a nation exists to serve its citizens (METAPHOR).

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighbourhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves - these are just and reasonable demands. (RULE OF THREE).

Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities (BREATHLESS).

Rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation (BREATHLESS, EXAGGERATION).

An education system flushed with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge (CONTRAST AND EXAGGERATION).

And the crime and the gangs and the drugs which deprive people of so much unrealised potential. (RULE OF THREE AND EXAGGERATION)

We are one nation. Their pain is our pain, their dreams are our dreams, we share one nation, one home and one glorious destiny (CONTRAST AND RULE OF THREE).

Today I take an oath of allegiance to all Americans. For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry. (CONTRAST) Subsidised the armies of other countries, while allowing the sad depletion of our own military (CONTRAST).

We've defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own (CONTRAST).

And spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay (CONTRAST).

We have made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon (CONTRAST, RULE OF THREE AND METAPHOR).

One by one, shutters have closed on our factories without even a thought about the millions and millions of those who have been left behind (EXAGGERATION).

But that is the past and now we are looking only to the future (CONTRAST).

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, in every hall of power (RULE OF THREE)– from this day on a new vision will govern our land (METAPHOR) – from this day onwards it is only going to be America first – America first (REPETITION)!

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families (EXAGGERATION).

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength (EXAGGERATION).

I will fight for you with every bone in my body and I will never ever let you down (EXAGGERATION AND REPETITION).

America will start winning again. America will start winning like never before (REPETITION AND EXAGGERATION).

We will bring back our jobs, we will bring back our borders, we will bring back our wealth, we will bring back our dreams (REPETITION).

We will bring new roads and high roads and bridges and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation (REPETITION).

We will get our people off welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labour (REPETITION).

We will follow two simple rules – buy American and hire American (REPETITION).

We see good will with the nations of the world but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their nations first (CONTRAST).

We will shine for everyone to follow (REPETITION AND METAPHOR).

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and untie the world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate from the face of the earth (REPETITION, METAPHOR AND EXAGGERATION).

At the bed rock of our politics will be an allegiance to the United States and we will discover new allegiance to each other (CONTRAST AND METAPHOR).

There is no room for prejudice (EXAGGERATION).

The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when god’s people live together in unity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable (CONTRAST AND EXAGGERATION).

There is no fear, we are protected and will always be protected by the great men and women of our military and most importantly we will be protected by god (CONTRAST, RULE OF THREE AND REPETITION.

Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger (CONTRAST).

As Americans, we know we live as a nation only when it is striving (EXAGGERATION).

We will no longer accept politicians who are always complaining but never doing anything about it (CONTRAST).

The time for empty talk is over, now arrives the hour of action (CONTRAST).

Do not allow anyone to tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America (RULE OF THREE AND METAPHOR).

We will not fail, our country will thrive and prosper again (CONTRAST).

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, to harvest the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow (METAPHOR, EXAGGERATION AND RULE OF THREE).

A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions (METAPHOR AND RULE OF THREE).

It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots (RULE OF THREE AND CONTRAST).

We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag and whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the windswept plains of Nebraska, they look at the same night sky, and dream the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath by the same almighty creator (CONTRAST, RULE OF THREE, EXAGGERATION AND METAPHOR).

So to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean – hear these words – you will never be ignored again (CONTRAST AND EXAGGERATION).

Your voice, your hopes and dreams will define your American destiny (RULE OF THREE).

Your courage, goodness and love will forever guide us along the way (RULE OF THREE AND METAPHOR).

Together we will make America strong again (REPETITION), we will make America wealthy again (REPETITION), we will make America safe again (REPETITION) and yes – together we will make America great again (REPETITION AND EXAGGERATION).

Thank you, God bless you and god bless America (RULE OF THREE).










During my TEDx talk, I invited the audience to suggest an absurd argument for me to make on the spot, using the techniques in sequence. Someone suggested, ‘Donald Trump should be President’. Laughing at the absurdity of it, I replied:
‘Plain Speaking. Honest. Authoritative. (THREE BREATHLESS SENTENCES)

America’s been waiting for someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck. America’s been waiting for a politician who can dare speak truth. America’s been waiting for someone who really shows leadership. (THREE REPETITIVE SENTENCES)

Trump’s being knocked by the liberal establishment but he’s winning support from the people. That’s because he’s not spinning, he’s telling it like it is. And he’s not just speaking to America, he’s speaking across the world. (THREE CONTRASTS)

We’ve been waiting for enlightenment… (METAPHOR)

All of us in Verona ought to be thanking our lucky stars that for once we’ve got genuine political debate taking place in the US, maybe who knows we might get something like this in Europe one day. Who knows? Stranger things have happened! (EXAGGERATION)

So if you think Trump is someone we should dump then to all of you in the EU, I say ‘Fuck you!’ (RHYME)

When I finished my improvised speech, everyone laughed. We’re not laughing now…



Picture by: Saul Loeb/AP/Press Association Images

About the author

Simon Lancaster is a professional speechwriter and the author of Winning Minds: Secrets from the Language of Leadership

Share this page


Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.