President Donald Trump gave an hour-long address that he had been invited to give to a joint session of Congress, which had all the trappings of a State of the Union Address. Some pundits have commented favorably about his presentation.
Chris Wallace, Fox New anchor: "I feel like tonight, Donald Trump became the president of the United States." Liberal CNN commentator Van Jones echoed that sentiment: "He became president of the United States." Veteran journalist Tom Brokow called it "easily the most presidential he's been," although Brokow also highlighted several issues, like immigration, where Trump is still repeating his old, divisive rhetoric.
I chose not to watch; my visceral reaction to Trump the man is such that I am prejudiced before he even begins to talk. This is less of a problem if I read what he says instead of listening to him speak.
However, it seems that the positive responses were more about his tone and demeanor. He read the teleprompter without deviating or inserting his usual asides and insults. There were implicit insults galore between the lines. Like his blithely calling for unity and cooperation from congress, as though he has not been insulting them individually and collectively for over a year.
Like his directing audience attention to the widow of the slain Navy 6 seal in the Yemen raid. She was seated next to Ivanka Trump, and the president basked in the prolonged outpouring of applause for her. But he did not indicate even a whiff of taking responsibility himself for the loss of life in a failed raid.
Instead, he blamed the military advisers for what went wrong, but also claimed that the mission gathered highly significant intelligence that will save lives in the future. Intelligence experts have said that no significant intel was gained, calling it a failed mission. In other words, he's quite eager to bask in the glory, but will not accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong.
What happened to Harry Truman's famous "The Buck Stops Here," an acceptance that the president is ultimately responsible for everything that happens under his command? Which all presidents have followed . . . apparently until now.
The positive reactions to the speech seem to come from a change in Trump's demeanor and delivery rather than the substance. One unnamed White House source called it "nationalism with an indoor voice." Washington Post's Robert Costa, who has several White House sources, said that they "are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech. . . . [They say] Trump has not changed . . . . there is no big shift in policy coming."
Another, more cynical critic tweeted that reading a teleprompter speech written for him by someone else, and seeming presidential, doesn't make him a good person. He is still not a good person. He's just a good actor."
Yes, but don't all politicians have people who work with them on the image they want to project? Let's accept small favors, without losing sight of the policies we must continue to oppose, starting with Trump's insistence, despite strong advice from his new NSA Gen. McMasters, on using the term "radical Islamic terrorism," rather than "radical terrorism."
His continuing determination to build the wall on our southern border, his continuing to misstate facts about the incidence of serious crimes committed by immigrants; his sticking to repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite finally recognizing that "it's complicated." His gutting of the EPA budget, while calling for a vast, unnecessary increase of the military budget.
Then there is the ongoing problem, repeated in this speech, of his using fake numbers to talk about unemployment. He insists, despite the number of times it has been rebutted, of citing the "number of people our of the work force," as if they are all looking for work. The fact is that the number he quotes, 94 million, includes students, the disabled, retirees, and stay at home parents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates those over 16 who want a job and don't have one at about 7.6 million -- not 94,000,000. Claiming 94 million is very dishonest. It was published in Breitbart News.
Then there are the not-so-obvious-to-the-casual-listener cognitive dissonances like stating in this speech that he will promote "clear water," when just hours before he had signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Water Rule. He also called on everyone to bring an end to "trivial fights," but he did not say that he would set the example by giving up his Twitter account.
So, no, I am not ready to call Donald Trump 'presidential.' It would, however, be a relief if he can hold on to this milder tone. But he's read speeches before, only to go to a rally and be back in campaign mode that same night.