By Doug Porter
President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of congress was everything his handlers hoped it would be. It was largely based on falsehoods or exaggerations, as fact checks from the Associated Press, the New York Times, and Politifact document, but couched in less threatening rhetoric.
He stayed on script, starting with things Democrats have a hard time opposing like being against hate crimes and for education, then moving to placate the base with Islamic terrorism horror stories and a new homeland security unit for the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
Most importantly, Trump didn’t attack the media, giving them an opening to normalize the administration and acquire brownie points by saying things like the speech sounded ‘muscular,’ or the occasion marked (yet another) ‘pivot point.’
If the President’s aides can keep him off twitter for a couple days and avoid any damaging leaks, his public approval polls will likely go up. What won’t change are the policies driving his agenda and the panic in the Grand Old Party over disagreements on how much havoc to wreak.
For now, the White House is basking in the glow of good press gained by a few choice words read off a teleprompter.
So Bigly Presidential
Here’s Ned Resnikoff at Think Progress, pointing out just what a ‘win-win’ looks like from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
The response to Trump’s newly “presidential” tone was so over the top that even some Trump aides were reportedly taken aback. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported Wednesday morning that his sources within the White House were “frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” given that it signaled no substantive shift in administration policy.
But the cable talking heads weren’t the only people to fall in love with this administration all over again during the address. Trump’s white supremacist base was similarly effusive in its praise.
Hail to the Chief – No change on policy to deport illegals and on track to CUT major legal immigration necessary to take our country back!
— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) March 1, 2017
After the PC bullshit is out of the way, Trump is making a Trump speech.#trumpaddress
— Richard 🥛 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) March 1, 2017
Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism—at least its adherents focused on the substance of Trump’s speech.
Chicken Hawk Nation
Much has been made of this President’s version of a visual gimmick during the speech, namely planting a person worthy of public sympathy next to the First Lady. Or in this case, the First Daughter.
James Fallows, who’s seen administrations come and go, took this to task in the Atlantic:
The shock to me was Trump’s calling out Carryn Owens, widow of the Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens, who died in the raid in Yemen that Trump authorized during his first week in office. He spoke of her husband’s bravery and sacrifice; she naturally broke down in tears; and the camera stayed on her as the Congress stood and gave a prolonged ovation.
The pundits I saw on TV were calling the moment “powerful” and “presidential.” I disagreed. For Ryan Owens’s own commitment and sacrifice, I feel only respect, honor, and admiration. His wife’s grief must be bottomless—like that of Ryan Owens’s father, who is so bitter about the raid that he refused to acknowledge Trump or shake his hand when Ryan Owens’s body was returned to Dover Air Force base.
But the public use of a widow’s grief in this ceremony seemed all too close to the spectacle that was the heart of Ben Fountain’s unforgettable novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, or the phenomenon I called “Chickenhawk Nation” in my cover story two years ago. In that piece I defined a chickenhawk nation as one “willing to do anything for its military except take it seriously.” Raise military budgets, sure. “Salute the heros” at sporting events—and big presidential speeches—yes, as well. But thinking seriously about where and how Americans will be asked to risk their lives? About exactly how the defense budget will be spent? About how the burdens of service can be more fairly shared? These topics are not so interesting.
On the very same day in which Trump had tried to deflect blame for Ryan’s death and other problems of the Yemen raid, saying (incredibly) of military leaders “they lost Ryan”; on the very day after he said publicly that the nation’s military “doesn’t win any more” and “we don’t fight to win”—at that moment, Donald Trump thought it suitable to use a grieving widow in this way. And then to say, as the applause finally died down, that the cheers had “set a record.”
If you thought this “presidential,” fine.
Other Social Media Responses
Lord, grant me the slack given to unqualified white men. https://t.co/okD0F8rXX7
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 1, 2017
America’s actin’ like a battered housewife full of hope because her husband didn’t come home drunk last night.
— Tea Pain (@TeaPainUSA) March 1, 2017
A Different World
The Huffington Post article on Democrats reaction to the speech included the word ‘surreal’ in the headline.
For freshman Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law professor who won election in November, it was unlike anything he’s ever heard.
“To me, it actually felt a little bit like The Hunger Games at points. There was something kind of dystopian, science fiction about the experience,” he said. “I looked up and I saw [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich and suddenly I felt that I was transported to a different world…”
….If anything, Democrats appeared energized. The address Trump gave Tuesday won’t quell the unrest that has sprouted up in their states across the country.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) emailed a one-word statement after the speech: “Resist.”
He’s right. Resist, we must.
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