Last night I tuned in to President Trump’s joint session speech, his first big speech in front of the three branches of our government. Candidly, I was not looking forward to it, as Trump’s speeches are often meandering exercises in free association that leave you more confused at the end. However, this speech struck me as perhaps the first time that President Trump really came across as presidential.
Unlike previous speeches, there was little self-aggrandizing on the President’s part. Often he acts as a braggart and provocateur with little to actually say, but last night Trump displayed some discipline. He stayed on message, his message. The speech covered a lot of ground including education, infrastructure repair, border security, and the creation of jobs for Americans. These are all classic Trump talking points and campaign promises.
Few details were laid out in the speech in as far as how he intends to accomplish his stated goals; but in fairness this is always the case at these events. President Obama delivered some well-articulated speeches at State of the Union Addresses, but never got into point by point explanations of how he intended to proceed forward. Perhaps a stump speech is not the place for complicated political answers, but this trend can’t be laid in the lap of President Trump.
Overall, the speech contained a very positive message about revitalizing America through infrastructure projects, increased security measures, and protecting the American family. Just about every country I can think of engages in some type of job protectionism except the United States, which is strange in a globalized economy. To hear him tell it, America is going to be like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. Perhaps reality is a little more mundane or maybe I’m just cynical. At any rate, many of these ideas are directionally correct which is what the public responds very well to. Now we just have to wait and see if words are put into action.
What has turned out to be the most controversial moment of the speech was the appearance of Carryn Owens, the widow of Chief Ryan Owens who was recently killed in action during a counter-terrorism operation in Yemen. Carryn was clearly touched, upset, and perhaps overwhelmed last night. President Trump acknowledged the sacrifices made by Carryn and her late husband, announcing that “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”
In a recent piece in the Miami Herald, Ryan’s father blasted the administration for the death of his son and demanded a full investigation into the matter. At the Capitol building, Carryn received a rare standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans.
President Trump’s use of the military and a war widow for political purposes is far from unprecedented. Every president in living memory has used and abused the good standing and reputation of the US military for political purposes. It is a classic game of association. Hang out with those who are popular and well-regarded, and you will be seen in the same light by association.
I was told privately that meeting with Ryan’s family after the Yemen raid touched something inside President Trump, as if the reality and finality of it all struck home and he had a genuine moment of grief. The President’s words to Carryn were most likely spoken from his heart and sincere. The public spectacle of the event is almost the President’s standard operating procedure. This is just the way he does things.
In a country that is both divided and highly emotional, President Trump has repeated his promises to the American people. Now he just has to make it happen, keeping in mind that he will have to work with the legislature to get most of it done. Little more than a month into his presidency, we can be sure that this story is far from over.
Image courtesy of CNN