“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered, from my heart. A new chapter of American greatness is now beginning, a new national pride is now sweeping across our nation, and a new surge of optimism is now placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp” – President Donald J. Trump
President Donald Trump delivered the best speech of his political career this week. Eloquent, gracious, commanding, he was everything we hitherto expected he would never be. And whilst some people profess terror at the new presidential Trump, I am optimistic. The Republican half of congress were salivating at their suddenly Reagan-esque leader. A proud Paul Ryan and a confident Mike Pence jumped out of their seats whenever possible. They were quickly able to wipe the “Trump is speaking… oh no” sweat from their brows and clearly look forward to a healthy four years. The Democrats were less optimistic, mostly planted in their seats, but did not heckle for the most part.
A Message of Unity
Donald Trump is not the most polished or rhetorically gifted orator of our time, he is no Obama. Trump thus tried to match Reagan’s quality of sincerity with George W. Bush’s vocabulary – if without his joviality. The first topic mentioned was celebrating black history month and civil rights, emphasising “the work that remains to be done” i.e an acknowledgement that racism still exists and he wants to be a partner in eradicating it. In light of yesterday’s meeting with the leaders of black colleges, Trump’s rhetoric on the issue of re-building inner-cities, his commitment to meet with the black caucus, and expanding opportunity in education, his statements in support of the black community cannot be seen as anything but wholly welcome and encouraging.
Moreover, Trump took the time to explicitly condemn “hate and evil in all of its ugly forms” explicitly mentioning the anti-semitic threats and vandalism that have recently visited the United States and the shooting in Kansas City. Both elements of the media and the Democratic establishment, Hillary Clinton to be precise, were demanding that Trump speak out against hate-crimes they believe are in-part a product of a Trump-Bannon White House. He has done so. Another victory for the powers of unity, it would seem.
The most controversial moment came when Trump praised Ryan Owens, the navy seal killed in Yemen. Some have called the operation “botched“, General Mattis, however, called it a “highly successful mission”. The reason for controversy is the presence of the widow of Owens. She was invited to the address by the president and whispered “thank you, I love you baby” to the heavens as the crowd cheered her husband’s memory. Some cynical political commentators have taken the fact the deceased soldier’s wife was present as “disgusting political pandering” by the Republicans. I could not disagree more with such a statement. In fact, denying Owen’s wife agency in this way and implying she is an unknowing propaganda tool for the GOP is an insult to her. And I don’t think we should be in the business of insulting the widowed. I side with the thoughtful former Democratic Senator Van Jones, who said: “[Trump] became the President of the United States during that moment (the ovation).”
A New President Trump?
Does the “new inaugural” address mark a shift towards sense and sensibility in the White House? That’s unlikely. The ‘war on the media’ will undoubtedly continue. Trump’s policies remain broadly the same as before: Trump will introduce an immigration task force, an arbitrary number of two regulations will be cut for every one regulation implemented, Obamacare will be repealed and replaced. But that is the cost of defeat for the Democrats – you lose the election, you lose your favoured policies. The fatuous ‘resistance’ must melt away into obscurity. It would be petty for the opposition to crassly condemn the new, presidential Trump, and many are already choosing this path. Unless, of course, “Teleprompter Trump” as Bill Maher says, regresses to the old “off-the-cuff Trump” and a case for impeachment creates itself – something it would be improper to be hopeful for.
I find it disturbing that after Trump finally found his presidential spirit, that some profess to be “more scared than ever”. Why? The agenda laid out by Trump combined a reassurance to his base that he will undo the corruption of the establishment and genuinely reached out to his opponents. Trump looked more of “a president for everyone” than he ever has. The Democrats have a job to do: they must help Trump implement his infrastructure bill, they must not become the Obama-era Republicans and deluge America in an unjust gridlock, they must approve Neil Gorsuch. Democrats will look more and more like “the swamp” if they take the path of most resistance. Of course, Democrats should oppose Trump when he does something heinous: the immigration issue is a place the Democrats should take a stand, but they must pick their battles rather than rush head-first into every subject as if Trump will undo democracy itself, as if that is even possible! In short, we should not pretend everything Trump wants to do is heinous – because it isn’t.
A few of Trump’s statements brought concern. Trump committed the United States to engage with the world and affirmed support for NATO. However, he followed up by saying the United States are “friends with old enemies”, an obvious nod to Russia. Trump also said, as acting president, he would “no longer represent the world” and will instead “represent the United States”, echoing the isolationist idea (a popular one on the left and right) that the United States should “not be the world’s policeman”. If you are a fan of US hegemony, as I am, you are acutely aware that Trump may put an end to it.
By no means does this joint address absolve Trump’s recklessness up to this point. And of course there is still much to worry about, including the falsities within the speech itself. However, it is heartening to see that Trump is capable of keeping his ego in check. It seems Trump will not start a nuclear war by accident. It’s a low bar, sure, but we didn’t know Trump could be a grown up till now. Let’s bring some civility to politics and give the President credit where it’s due.
EDIT: As of 31/03/2017 I can declare I was wrong. I’m sorry.
Mitchell is a blogger currently studying Politics and International Relations at the University of Bath