President Donald Trump disappointed a lot of people in his first address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening.
He did not directly criticize his predecessor. He did not attack the media. He did not bash the Democratic Party. He did not overuse superlatives or continuously refer to himself. He did not accuse anyone of lying.
His detractors were, quite possibly, left dumbfounded and – most certainly – disappointed.
It certainly wasn’t the rehearsed soaring rhetoric of Barack Obama. It was a speech that pointed out how bad things have been and how good things can be, with some relatively broad strokes of how we, as a nation, will get from one to the other – delivered in a business-like, but not mundane, tone.
The President began with a nod to Black History Month and segued into an acknowledgement of the current spate of anti-Semitic acts against Jewish cemeteries and community centers, noting that they reminded us of “the work that needs to be done.”
Following on from that, Trump began to list some of the dire economic conditions facing the nation and, just for a moment or two, one would have been forgiven for assuming that another campaign speech was about to be delivered. It was a mere snapshot of past failure, however, and the remainder of the speech fell firmly under the heading of “The renewal of the American spirit,” a phrase he used early on and repeated in the concluding statements.
He went on to review the steps his administration had already taken to right the ship. He covered these steps without any hint of self-congratulation or exaggeration; it was a matter-of-fact inventory of actions taken and results emerging. Once again, this was delivered in no-nonsense, but optimistic tone.
Through the rest of his address, the President devoted most of his words to the subjects of immigration, healthcare, law and order, and defense. He revealed little about his plans for tax reform, which may, indeed, have disappointed those who still await more details of this significant slice of the economic policy pie. What he did say on the matter has already been heard; major cuts in corporate tax, increases in import taxes and another nod to large tax cuts for the middle class.
A strong push to combat crime – particularly gang- and cartel-related crime – was a main feature which bled over into the question of immigration. Other than healthcare, immigration was the policy issue on which the President gave the most specific directions: He reiterated his intent to see the construction of a wall along the southern border, the removal of illegal aliens who had committed violent crime in the United States and a new approach to legal immigration. Citing the immigration policies of many countries in the developed world, he called for a merit-based system which would prioritize immigrants with the skills and education to fill higher-paying positions in the United States. Opening the borders to waves of unskilled laborers, he argued, harms unskilled Americans and puts a strain upon the very welfare mechanisms that they often come to rely upon.
He also touched briefly upon his continuous freeze on immigration from certain countries, pointing out that “it is not compassionate, but reckless” to allow entry from countries that are unable to verify the identities and intentions of would-be immigrants or refugees.
The United States “cannot allow a beach-head of terrorism to form inside this country,” he stated.
Specific defense and military operational policies were not mentioned, in keeping with Trump’s view that one does not telegraph to the enemy what one is planning. He vowed to “demolish and destroy” the Islamic State and “extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.” Massive defense spending and the elimination of the sequester are to be the springboard for this effort.
Part of the address was also devoted to foreign policy and Trump reaffirmed U.S. support for NATO and for Israel and promised “direct robust and meaningful engagement” with other nations, whilst promoting peace wherever possible.
In the concluding phase of the address, the President once again urged optimism; declaring that “the time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is over.” Indeed, the address was peppered with pleas to the Democratic Party to work with Republicans for a brighter future.
This was no State of the Union address; this was a new President laying out his vision and calling on Congress to support his agenda. His opponents and critics are, no doubt, disappointed that he didn’t give them more fuel for their bonfires of anger and indignation. His allies and supporters will be content for much the same reason.
Indeed, this speech was delivered, not by candidate Trump, but by President Trump – and he’s all business.