He read it pretty well. Only threw in a few ad libs. Wore a dark blue and white striped tie, not the power-red one. President Donald Trump, in his first address to Congress on Tuesday night, hopped over a very low bar, delivering a speech full of the sort of America-first nationalism we’ve gotten from him since his inauguration, as well as offering lot of the same sorts of promises and platitudes that all Presidents, Democrats and Republicans, usually offer during these kinds of events. It’s no wonder the late Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia referred to them as “pep rallies” and declined to attend them.
Credit for that last bit of trivia goes to Brian Williams, who was co-anchoring MSNBC’s coverage of the speech. On CNN post-speech, Jake Tapper gave credit to “a much more subdued President Trump.” On Fox News, Tucker Carlson said it was “Trumpism without the affect,” which is to say, the essential Trump messaging without the usual bellicosity.
All three cable news channels agreed that the dramatic high point of the night was the moment the President saluted Carryn Owens, the widow of a U.S. Navy SEAL, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, who died in the raid in Yemen. Her grief-stricken face and heaven-ward gaze was undeniably moving.
I will let the political writers pick and choose through Trump’s speech for the truths and the falsehoods of what he touted this night. But judging this as a TV event, I must say I missed ol’ Joe Biden, who used to back up President Obama with his laughs, his eyebrow waggling, and his genial cheerleading. On this night, in Biden’s place behind the President, we had to watch Mike Pense’s pursed-lipped “I thought I told you to be home by 10 p.m., young lady” sternness, and Paul Ryan’s serene, unblinking gaze at the back of Trump’s head. If you put a thought-balloon alongside Ryan, it would read, “Boast all you want, pally: it’s my agenda that’s going to get pushed through Congress.”
I’ll also note that those were apparently groans, presumably all Democratic, to be heard when Trump announced a new pet project: “I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims. The office is called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.” This seemed like an acronym created for Bill O’Reilly and his anti-sanctuary-cities campaign.
In the post-speech spinning, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer boiled down the essential complaint to be made: “What the President says and what the President does are at opposite ends of the spectrum.” But then, that’s also what the other side of the aisle says when the other party is in office, right?