For an hour or so, Donald Trump acted like a normal adult. The nation was shocked, and much of the media was all aswoon. It was almost as if Trump were not just presidential, but, you know, the president.
In addressing a joint session of Congress, Trump delivered the long-awaited reset, and normally tough-minded Chris Wallace turned into one of the swooners, calling it “one of the best speeches” he had ever seen in that setting. It wasn’t, of course. It was a soon-forgotten, middling speech, which, by Trump standards, was Churchillian. I mean, it looked as if the president had actually practiced the speech before delivering it. Who knew?
In this State-of-the-Union-like speech, Trump wanted to say, amid the unrelenting chaos of his first 40 days, that the state of the Trump was actually strong. It was so strong that Trump postponed the executive-order reset on the travel ban — once needed immediately to stop the onrushing bad hombres, or whatever they’re called in Arabic — so he could bask in the praise of the enemies of the people.
The praise was not for anything Trump said or did, although he did finally, boldly, come out against anti-Semitism and hate-crime killing.
The praise was for what he didn’t say or do. For an hour, reading from the once-reviled teleprompter, he didn’t call anyone a rapist or crooked or a clown or a disaster or dishonest or a loser or fake or goofy or sleazy or wacky. He didn’t say he wanted to punch someone or have the Second Amendment boys weigh in. He didn’t mock a disabled reporter or mock the media much at all.
It was a relaunch from his American Carnage inauguration speech. It was a reset from his I-alone-can-fix-the-disaster-that-is-America convention speech.
But it was not a pivot. In this speech, he still talked of wide-open borders (so why do I have to always wait in those damn lines when I cross?) and of the bogus 94 million Americans out of the workplace. He insists that crime is up (it isn’t). He gave much of his speech to those killed by undocumented immigrants as if there were such a crime wave (there isn’t; immigrants, in fact, have a lower crime rate.)
It was a campaign-style speech — the only kind Trump knows how to give — but with the expletives deleted. And, in place of the expletives, he said “the time for trivial fights is over,” as if he weren’t the most trivial fighter (remember the weeklong battle over the size of his inaugural crowd) since George Costanza (Moops).
No wonder we’re swooning. This has to be the first post-election speech in which Trump didn’t mention the size of his Electoral College win.
So, what did he say?
He said a lot. He spoke for an hour. He hit most of the Trump greatest hits with all the usual Trump vagueness. He still wants to repeal and replace Obamacare, even if he said just the other day that he didn’t understand how complicated that would be. So even as he laid out five health-reform principles, he didn’t lay out anything resembling an actual plan or the timing for a plan or how he would pay for the plan. It was pretty much the same with the big infrastructure plan — cheered by the Republicans in the room. And the great tax reform plan, which apparently needs no math to explain it. And the America-first trade agreements to come.
He talked of the “great, great wall,” beating the original wall by at least one great. He didn’t say — this is news — that Mexico would pay for it. He also didn’t say — this is not news — who would.
He said we would work with our allies, including our Muslim allies, to destroy ISIS, even though many of the same Muslims fighting and dying in a war against ISIS would not be welcome in Trump’s America.
On the other hand, he said our NATO allies were stepping up with their fair share of defense spending and the “money was pouring in.” Pouring in where? The United States isn’t going to collect any money. If the allies step up, it is to spend more of their own money on their own defense budget.
Well, he didn’t launch any trade wars. He didn’t launch any real wars either. In fact, unless I missed it, he never even mentioned North Korea. Or, um, Russia.
The biggest news of the day came before the speech in an off-the-record meeting with news anchors in which an anonymous White House source (clearly, Trump himself) said that Trump was ready to deal on immigration reform and was even open to considering legal status, although not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants who had not committed serious crimes.
That’s headline stuff. It’s also, well, unbelievable stuff. Trump was elected as the no-amnesty Trump who would send everyone back where they came from and allow “the good ones” to return. Now, he’s offering legalization? Now, Mexico is not paying for the wall? Will his supporters care? What do you think?
The moment of the night — and it was a truly moving moment — came when Trump paid tribute to Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL who had been killed in the raid on Yemen. As Owens’s widow, Carryn, cried in the audience, Trump thanked her and said, “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”
What Trump didn’t say is that, just the day before, he had blamed his generals for whatever might have gone wrong on the mission or that John McCain had called the mission a failure or that Owens’s father had called for an investigation.
Being president, like life and like health-care reform, is complicated. Still, Trump did show he had the self-discipline, for an hour, to act like a grown-up. And now we wait to see how long it takes for him to step all over that message.
Photo by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons