Donald Trump strikes conciliatory note in first address to US Congress, sounds presidential

Donald Trump seems to be coming to terms with understanding the tone and tenor a president's address must strike. And while his rabble-rousing rhetoric continued well past the election and into his presidency — causing nationwide, if not worldwide, discomfort, Trump's first address to the US Congress saw the former real estate tycoon attempt to tone things down a bit. The content of his speech didn't really waver very much from the usual hot topics of immigration reform, Obamacare, jobs, trade, radical Islamic terror etc, but it was the manner of his speech that differed.

A case in point was the following line that appeared roughly halfway through his address: "Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved".

Compared to how insistent he has been on dubbing everything a 'disaster', this line seemed to suggest a modification of approach. While it's impossible to know for certain if this was something done to manage perceptions or if he genuinely feels this way or if indeed he was simply advised by his backroom staff to slow things down a little, Trump succeeded in coming across a lot more conciliatory than he has at any point in the past 18 months.

President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. AP

President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. AP

And this spirit of conciliation wasn't restricted to Trump alone, with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle warmly indulging the president with standing ovations — nearly one per sentence, at the start of his speech.

Mr Speaker, Mr vice-president, members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States, and citizens of America...

*standing ovation*

Tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation's path toward civil rights and the work that still remains.

*standing ovation*

Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.

*standing ovation*

And so on, until eventually it was only the Republicans who were vociferously applauding every other sentence. It's worth noting that this was the first time Trump has even referenced the shooting in Kansas City that claimed the life of 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injured Alok Madasani and Ian Grillot. That he saw fit only to devote six words to that vile act of racial violence is a topic for a different article.

Here's a rundown of some broad themes that emerged from the Trump address:

Easing back on isolationism?

Over the past few months, opinion, editorial and analysis pieces across the world have been written about the notion that the US is in the process of turning inwards and withdrawing from its high global profile — something that has been in existence since the Second World War. And with his rejection of multilateral trade agreements and defence alliances, Trump has done little to expel the notion that isolationist policies are the path the country will tread over the next four years, at least.

Which is why it came as something of a surprise when the president said, "What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American Spirit. Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead" (emphasis added). Whether it's Trump or America that is ready is not known, but this statement will have brought a bit of relief to many of the country's global allies and partners — well, except for Mexico.

"(W)e will soon begin the construction of a great great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime. As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised," as Trump said.

Radical Islamic Terrorism

If there was one area in which Trump didn't ease off on the rhetoric, it was when discussing terrorism, particularly the radical Islamic variety:

"As promised, I directed the Department of Defence to develop a plan to demolish and destroy (Islamic State) — a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet." And sticking to his normal approach was probably a safe bet, because this is one of those issues in which there is no alternate argument to be made. That is to say, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the US Congress who doesn't think of terrorism as a 'vile enemy' and the IS as 'lawless savages'.

An aside: It's interesting to see that while Trump had been claiming all through the presidential campaign that he had a plan for Islamic State, he now divulged that he has directed the Department of Defence to develop one. Maybe his own plan was rejected? Who knows?

Fair trade over free trade

A 'mess' or 'disaster' is how Trump had dubbed the US' trade policies — particularly its involvement in such multilateral agreements as Nafta, TTIP and TPP — in the past. But this time, he chose to invoke the spirit of Honest Abe to make his point and possibly win some support from across the aisle. "The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the 'abandonment of the protective policy by the American Government (will) produce want and ruin among our people'. Lincoln was right — and it is time we heeded his words. I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers, be taken advantage of anymore," said Trump.

By shifting the point of focus from the past eight years of Democrat rule to Lincoln and the workers of the US, it's quite possible Trump was able to make a more convincing argument to the Congress and Americans at large.

Note: Lincoln wasn't the only former president referenced by Trump. He also mentioned Dwight Eisenhower in the context of American infrastructure.

Still tough on Obamacare

It's unfathomable that Trump would shift from his entrenched position on Obamacare, considering one of the first things he did after being sworn in as President of the United States on 20 January, was to sign an executive order seeking the repeal of his predecessor Barack Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Aside from the usual statements about how this programme was hurting taxpayers, that better terms were needed and how it was a 'disaster', Trump did wrap things up with one of those John F Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or Lincoln-esque presidential phrases that is likely to grab headlines.

"Obamacare is collapsing — and we must act decisively to protect all Americans," said Trump and then went on to add, "Action is not a choice — it is a necessity". Cue massive applause.

Come together

word cloud

"My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America," said Trump in a speech that was expectedly about American interests and needs. To that effect, rather than sticking to the 'with me or against me' attitude that has marked Trump's public oratory over the past few months, he appealed at least thrice for both sides of the aisle to put aside their differences and work together:

"I believe Republicans and Democrats can work together to achieve an outcome that has eluded our country for decades."
"So I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster."
"Democrats and Republicans should get together and unite for the good of our country."

It's too early to say with any conviction whether or not this address indicates a departure of Trump the Twitter Troll and the entry of Trump the Statesman, but he appears to be making the right noises.


Published Date: Mar 01, 2017 10:20 am | Updated Date: Mar 01, 2017 10:20 am


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