The president’s first address to Congress was full of inconsistency when compared to his words and deeds in the White House
By Richard Wolffe / The Guardian / March 1, 2017
All presidents deserve the respect that belongs to the office of the commander-in-chief. Even orange ones who trash the media, hide their business interests from public view, and praise Russian foes.
Yes, even Donald Trump deserves something more than “you lie!” Especially when he lies.
So it falls to us, on the occasion of his first address to a joint session of Congress, to take Trump at his un-tweeted word. At least for one night.
After just one month in office, it is safe to say this has been the most tremendous start to a presidency. It’s safe to say that because Trump says it all the time.
“I think in terms of effort, which means something, but I give myself an A+,” he told the ferocious interviewers on Fox and Friends on the morning of his big speech. “I think I get an A in terms of what I’ve actually done, but in terms of messaging, I’d give myself a C or a C+.”
Don’t be so hard on your messaging, Mr President. Your heroic effort has certainly been noticed around the world, in federal courts across the nation, and by the true measure of your success: on Saturday Night Live.
At the very least, based on this brutally honest self-assessment, the new president’s first address to Congress deserved an A+ for effort.
The sheer effort required to start a speech by condemning racist murders and antisemitic attacks was historic. After all, earlier in the day, the same president had suggested all those bomb threats to Jewish community centers were the work of his political opponents “to make others look bad”.
Say what you like about the Trump presidency, but he is working hard to make all those “others” feel really good.
“A new national pride is sweeping across our nation,” he read from his prompter in a tone he used to describe as low energy. “And a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.”
You can almost feel the surge of optimism in the previously downtrodden minority known as white supremacists. The impossible dreams of David Duke are firmly within his grasp, including his warm embrace of Trump’s conspiracy theories about those antisemitic bomb threats.
Just last week Trump’s evil genius, Steve Bannon, declared that his boss was objectively the greatest orator since William Jennings Bryan, the populist Democrat who campaigned in vain against the elites, alcohol, and science. Bannon insisted that Trump’s stump speeches were “full of content” and Tuesday’s address to Congress was no less full of it.
To grasp for some oratorical heights, Trump and his speechwriters imagined the 250th anniversary of the founding of the republic.
Never mind that the auspicious anniversary falls outside the scope of the second term of a Trump presidency. Trump simply refused to accept a 250th year burdened by the mistakes of the past decades, when “we’ve spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled”.
His solution: to spend trillions and trillions of dollars overseas on increased military spending.
Some people might say this is contradictory, but they don’t see what Trump saw during his election: a moment in history that could not pass without mention or cliche. To underscore this point, he variously described 2016 as an earthquake, a rebellion, a protest, and a chorus.
“Finally the chorus became an earthquake,” he orated, “and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple but crucial demand: that America must put its own citizens first.”
All except the non-united citizens: those who voted for Hillary Clinton, in greater numbers than moved the earth for Trump.
This is the best promise of all. An A+ kind of promise, which we know to be true because this is the most principled and ethical government ever.
“We have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption by imposing a five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials, and a lifetime ban on becoming lobbyists for a foreign government,” said the president who sounds like he lobbies for Vladimir Putin. If you have any doubt about this, you should ask the Trump Organization’s ethics officer to check the president’s tax returns, just to be sure everything is kosher.
Few of his critics understand what Trump so eloquently described as the way “each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty and justice in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present”.
Trump’s loving care and attention to truth, liberty and justice shone throughout his lengthy explanation of his approach to immigration.
Soon, he promised, he would build a wall on the southern border, even before Congress has given him the money to do so. Right now, he assured us, he was deporting bad hombre criminals, as well as many who are just any kind of criminal. Already he was blocking the uncontrolled entry of so many Muslim foreigners, after so many Syrian refugees have wasted their green cards sitting in squalid camps on Greek islands.
Trump will keep all his promises, including the ones he just made Tuesday to work for “real and positive immigration reform”.
“The time for small thinking is over,” said this president of exceedingly large thinking. “The time for trivial fights is behind us.”
Those trivial fights are so far behind us that it’s been a full two days since he tweeted that the Russian stories were just a Democratic conspiracy to “mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”
“We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts,” Trump concluded. “The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls.”
Sometimes those hopes and dreams just happen to include the demise of the New York Times, CNN and all the enemies of the people known as the free press.
There is indeed a torch in Trump’s exceptionally large hands. And he’s not afraid to use it.