I saw this address life from Israel.
In short, President Trump’s presentation was very well written and delivered. It would be easy to use his words to show what a monster, or what a good man his must be — or that he’s really a mixed bag. He’s none of the above, but this will be claimed plenty anyway, so I don’t need to go there. What I rather would like to focus on are the President’s motives, the different reasons that I suspect he had for saying these words. He seems to try to keep a lot of plates up in the air.
I think (others have other things to comment) that these are some of the main things that President Trump’s first speech to the united Chambers of Congress tried to accomplish:
- Reaching out to Republicans Senators.
This was his first priority — overlooked by many commentators, as if he had the Grand Old Party in his pocket already. He didn’t. He’s not a Conservative or a politician — he’s (supposedly) a millionaire or at least a businessman — which are not the same things automatically.
Trump’s words and actions, in his campaign and in his first weeks in the White House, have at times delighted, but often also highly embarrassed and repulsed traditional Republicans and elected officials in general. Yet, in this address he projected a presidential image they can feel good about. He stood proudly for many Conservative ideals and principles without spoiling it with crude rude sound bites.
I doubt it if any of the Republican Members of Congress needed to go to the gym (like her) in the days following their countless rising to their toes and exhausting clapping. A jolly workout of sorts it seemed.
- Selling his product: Trump.
He did a marvelous job at this, of course. Only once, I noticed that he overplayed his hand, when he claimed that at the 250th anniversary of the State in another nine years, we will all think back at this speech and evening that changed it all. No, it didn’t and no, we won’t.
He also said total nonsense — don’t get me wrong — but those points did not seem as obvious and domineering as during the election debates. An example? “We should help Americans purchase their own [health] coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded Health Savings Accounts.” That is of course useless assistance for the poor, who do not pay taxes. Or, another example, several times he played poor refugees and poor Americans off against each other.
He brought known points (blocking special interest advocates from roaming Parliament) with the same passion as new points.
- Reaching his voters.
He gave them a real presidential president, a dignified, proud and capable supposed representative of them. At times, he “returned a smile” at someone in the audience, who not necessarily had smiled at him, of course. Boy, are his voters going to be furious when they find out that he only made the rich richer, and ruined the US economy, ecology, safety, fairness and decency in the process.
He spoke their language, but then a bit more official, with snippets of working class truisms. Inviting his special guests was a really well-done public relations stunt. And he did repeat (but not overuse) the Trumpian buzzwords: radical militant Islam, building that wall, draining the swamp, Obamacare is an imploding disaster (he had not one friendly word for his predecessor) and murderous illegal immigrants — the latter was pure racism (under a shocked hiss from many Democrats). With 16,000 violent deaths in the USA per years, these few illegal immigrant killers are not representative of un-safety nor of illegal immigrants, so it is bigotry to label them like that. But for most people I’m sure he got away with it by inviting and focusing on surviving relatives of victims instead of on the villains.
- He wanted to present himself as kind towards Democrats.
Most attempts did not go deep, but they displayed his imaginary good-will, and that is what he wanted: that people would notice that he must be this good guy who tries to do things the bi-partisan way.
The issue not being that Democrats would think that he’d love to work with them. Rather, when he will get into fights with them (and he will), he wants to be able to say that he tried to reach them, but they’re of ill will. Never mind that Republican Members of Congress were outright hostile to the previous Democratic President for the past eight years.
He did milk anything that both parties already agree on. (Like: supporting veterans, Israel, more jobs, tax relief for the middle class, etc. (The endless applause for the widow of a fallen soldier was appropriate, but I found the persistent close-up voyeuristic and the whole thing embarrassing.)
As meaningless as repeating all these points of non-contention was, he used these stale banalities to pose as a president for all Americans.
The Democrats were blandly respectful, but most of the time listened kind of “we are not amused,” (especially the feministly dressed women and buttoned men). Trump played them as a professional puppeteer, having them rise and applaud for things they could not disagree with in public. We were shown Bernie Sanders rise and frugally applaud when his president said: “I am going to bring back millions of jobs.”
Most of the Democrats left immediately after the conclusion, apparently not to be taken for approving, but also to not ostentatiously refrain from applauding like crazy.
- He stood up for American values.
He notably and beautifully opened with univocally condemnations of Racism and ant-Semitism. If he would be a man of his word, his opposition would shrink to less than one percent of the US population. However, in standing up against bigotry, even words not followed by deeds, count big.
He also paid lip service to things as freedom, that we are all created equally by the same G-d, and all deserve health care, a choice in schooling, safety, paid parental leave, you name it. He did not promise that he would ensure that that would materialize — that is up to activists, I would say — only that everyone deserves and should expect the best.
He pledged alliance to other nations who want to be or are already allies and friends. It sounded genuinely and that’s what counted. He does want them to pay their fair share, but the money is already pouring in. Sure. In the refugee issue we already see how reasonable and successful his Administration is. Not.
Outside of the Americas he only mentioned Iran and Israel (once) and China (once in passing) and NATO and the Middle East and that was it. No Syria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Britain, not even the UN. He did mention Islamic State, as the only current horrific evil on a global scale.
- He connected to hawks.
Promising a stronger army, better borders, most stringent vetting of immigrants, and more Law and Order. He added words like war is terrible to sell his hawkish views as reasonable and humane. He was proud of things that he already set in motion that will ruin the environment, and at the same time, he did promised clean air and water, as any smart salesperson can say anything without any basis.
- He gave many oppressed groups some key relevant support.
Women, Blacks, workers, Jews, Latinos, youths, the sick, the poor, and even drug addicts got some good lines. “Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect.” (Only work or also a decent salary?) I don’t mean this compliment cynically. However, I feel that it lies in the hands of activists and the Democrats if much appropriate action will follow this uplifting but mere talk. In any case, this speech was not at all about delivering in the first place.
He did forget two groups that Obama wouldn’t: too many (Black) people are in jail (for minor offences even) and on death row, and LGBTQ. I also missed housing as a right — kind of important with millions of homeless and many times this number of empty houses owned by banks. But no one would expect perfection. No one claimed or demanded that the president’s overview would be exhaustive.
- Truth untold.
This speech was not a U-turn. Before and after it, he and his administration continue the blaming and name-calling for which they have become too familiar already. Nothing has changed.
Contemplating all he said, the goal was to sell himself — not to show what his ideas are really all about, including any inhumane ideas. So he said that he wanted more immigrants that can contribute, but he left out to acknowledge the work that illegal immigrant have been doing, and he did not leave space for any generosity like humanitarian absorption of refugees — like his own ancestors. He stays a second-hand cars salesman trying to make a sale, not a pastor vying for decency.
However, clearly, he could never pay for all that he said to stand for, not in money and not in principle. Coal workers back to the mines and clean air? A stronger military and free healthcare and choice in schooling for the poor and giant tax breaks for the wealthy and the middle class and millions of new jobs?
It was a shopping list lacking any realism, but reality will be fought over later. Now what counted were only the wrapping paper and ribbons — and they looked nice (if you don’t know the meanings of these tax breaks, pipelines, coal mines, and big military and police). It will be a big surprises when the parcel will be opened and the credit company will demand its money.
(I would love to know if his over a dozen quantitative statements could be correct — probably hardly — so I’ll watch the Times of Israel that would be most the likely to bring such a review.)
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