Trump’s speech to Congress on Tuesday was, on first impression, a welcome harbinger of a restrained and more presidential attitude.
Unsurprisingly, the standing ovations were by members of the GOP majority, many of whom also agree with his policy priorities — if not his methods — to roll back de-regulation and universal health insurance, and reform the tax code and immigration. Above all, they yearn to turn their leader into a character fit for purpose.
The first forty days and first forty tweeting nights of Trump’s presidency have been a period of probation, trial and much chastisement, with a good deal of judgment in between. He has proved incapable of rising to the grandeur, wisdom and understanding of his position, unable to lift his finger off the campaign button. It was questionable how much longer he could survive, lurching like a wounded bull in the ring, blinking through the bleeding cuts of accountability while trying to focus on the dizzying matadors’ capes of civil protests, town hall rebellions, investigative news coverage, decisive court rulings and searing ridicule.
It is difficult to acknowledge oratory that went some way to try to unite a country, given it was delivered by the very person responsible for ratcheting the divisions.Trisha de Borchgrave
Trump’s fondness for an adversarial and divisive method of deal making was not working, particularly when it came to the lawlessness of his targeted travel and refugee ban. The mainstream press, smelling impeachment over his team’s alarming connections to Russian intelligence, kept up with his levels of adrenaline. The techniques of deceit that won Trump the hearts and minds of the rallying crowds were insufficient to govern.
Despite this inauspicious start, his aides showed themselves canny enough to draft a powerful speech that would avoid the Trump juggernaut crashing in the approval ratings.
Feelings of national pride
From this perspective, his speech was a success; it vindicated his supporters’ contention that they were not “deplorables”, gave a stay of execution to those congressmen and women whose office switchboards were catching fire with their constituents’ invective, and involuntarily triggered a feeling of national pride for many Americans who thought themselves anti-Trump.
It is difficult to acknowledge oratory that went some way to try to unite a country, given it was delivered by the very person responsible for ratcheting the divisions and eroding the integrity of politicians, and trust of citizens.
But the fact-checking page from the New York Times revealed that Trump’s misinterpretations of data — including murder rates, Obamacare premiums, and the number of Americans on food stamps and in poverty — were no worse than the average politician’s assertions every time a microphone is thrust in front of him or her. His policies may be impossible to implement or ineffective, but that is love and war in the business of governance, not a threat to the democratic process or to the constancy of vital international alliances.
More importantly, by dialing back the invective, Trump’s address to Congress may give the chance for the heavyweights at his cabinet table — National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — to test their intellectual and psychological mettle against the president’s animal instincts.
The Republican bursts of acclaim resounded with a sense of duty, a call to arms even, for the country to move on. When Trump spoke of the importance of America’s armed forces, serving police officers and veterans, it was difficult for Democrats to deny him their visible support. The lengthy standing ovation given to the widow of William (Ryan) Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in Yemen in the first attack on Al-Qaeda that Trump authorized as president, was deeply moving; not even the most cynical could detract from her abject pain and misery. And Trump seemed genuine in his sympathy; until, that is, he called out to her that her husband — slain just over a month ago — must now be “very happy” with the record-breaking duration of applause he received from the chamber.
Holding Trump to account
However, the dogged and lawful search to understand and hold to account Trump’s role in condoning Russian state intervention in America’s political process will continue.
Congress’ duty lies in uncovering the facts about the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian individuals, which contrasts with the allegation that US intelligence services leaked information, as some Republicans would have everyone believe.
So Trump’s speech was a breather. It lasted the time it took to eat that evening’s meal. Welcome as it was, Trump’s new tone has not served as a dose of amnesia to all that preceded it. The speech was a glimmer of acknowledgement of America’s power and greatness, and about her don't-mess-with-me attitude, which when placed alongside her strong democratic checks and balances, gives us hope that this mighty and, indeed, great country will prevail.
• Trisha de Borchgrave is a writer and artist based in London. She can be reached at www.trishadeborchgrave.com and through Twitter @TrishdeB