Let me offer a few thoughts on President Trump’s first address to Congress.
I think purely as a speech, its crafting, the thematic cadence and delivery, it was pretty average to unremarkable. It wasn’t a very good speech. Having said that, I think Trump may pick up a few points of support from the public because he seemed like a fairly normal person delivering it. This is admittedly an extremely low standard. But when you compare this Trump to the meltdown press conference Trump or the rageful, spewing Twitter Trump, he can’t help but seem more balanced and less threatening by comparison. Low bar. SAD! But there it is.
One observation on this front. There were three or four times when a large number of Democrats grumbled or guffawed or just chortled and laughed at Trump more or less to his face. The first and perhaps the biggest example was when he took credit for “draining the swamp.” I suspect his handlers worked very hard prepping him not to react when this happened. As far as I could tell, he never did. I suspect it was very difficult. Having a tightly prepared speech probably helped. In any case, he didn’t. And it’s very good for him that he didn’t.
Finally, probably the most important thing about this speech was this: It had some softer edges. Trump did well for himself and for the country by explicitly and clearly condemning the wave of threats and attacks on Jewish institutions and the anti-immigrant hate crime in Kansas. But the speech itself did not strike me as more aspirational or more focused on unity, as White House staffers suggested it would be. It seemed like the same fundamentally dark vision of a decimated America, just with the volume turned down a notch or two. There was no ‘American carnage’. But it was still the worst recovery in 60 years, manipulated statistics to make it seem like the murder rate is the highest in two generations when in fact it’s very close to the lowest and the bizarre and dystopic references to ‘criminal cartels’ overrunning the country.
Yes, he kept talking up the 250th anniversary of the country in 9 years and how this would be the moment when we started becoming great again. But it was fundamentally similar to the convention and inauguration speeches, just with the volume turned down.
I can’t in good conscience not add here that the speech was strewn with demonstrably false claims. But we expect this now.
The President’s advisors, especially Steve Bannon, can read the polls as well as anyone else. But they’ve set as their goal not shifting those numbers (at least not worrying about them for now) so much as providing repeated evidence and claims to convince his base supporters that he’s following through on what he promised he would do. I said I would do this and I didn’t. You can count on me. I’m different.
That’s my take on what this speech was really about.