To be sure, President Trump during his State of the Union speech on Wednesday night, which polls indicate that Americans generally applauded, benefited from low expectations.
But should Trump not be credited with setting his own bar historically low? It has been his behaviour, after all, and his penchant to shout first and think later, that had well more than half of America believing going into Wednesday night that he would fall back into his old habits of stretching the truth to ridiculous lengths or simply lying, attacking everyone who disagrees with him with the sharpest arrows for the so-called media, all packaged with self-congratulatory remarks and promises of just how huge it will all be when we once again become America the Great.
Trump’s willingness to act unpresidential during the campaign and his first 38 and fourth-fifth days in office had his critics and loyalists convinced being presidential was beyond his reach. They part on the consequences of that sometimes unseemly behavior.
But there Trump was, standing before America, Congress, and Supreme Court justices, striking a reasoned tone, laying out a unified vision that included promises that might not be filled but that much of Middle America embraces, and not displaying an ounce of annoyance that the audience to his right never cheered and rarely stood.
Trump opened with a nod to Black History Month, and although it felt contrived, it touched an important base. His vision for an immigration system that would use enhanced vetting to sort the bad from those who could produce will resonate with America, especially when it is remembered that those who come here and then live off of others are splitting the pie even thinner for everyone. He stuck with his promise to build The Wall. He dared to mention “radical Islamic terrorism,” words that his predecessor would go to extreme contortions to avoid, and promised to rebuild the military for that war. He pledged allegiance to free trade, but said that it would be fair, and that would return millions of lost jobs to America. And he promised as well to spend a trillion dollars or more to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which likewise will put people to work.
He was, in a word, inspiring, delivering an American-first message that was patriotic and populous, but also included elements that should have been applauded by both sides of the aisle.
“I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold, and daring things for our country,” Trump said. “I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment. Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America.”
It was a good night for Trump, made even better when the Democrats again underlined their disconnect with all the anger out there by trotting out a former governor of Kentucky who is old and white and who was surrounded by whites of a range of ages, pretty much guaranteeing that whatever he said, no matter how pertinent, would not be heard.
This was a night about optics, and Trump looked as good as he ever has, and congressional Democrats, by sitting stoically when they should have cheered and sitting when they should have stood, looked bad. Perhaps that’s because their worst fears were being realized, and that Trump’s ideas are not only achievable, they will garner the support needed to bring them to reality.
Feb. 28, 2017, might well be a night that America remembers.