President Trump’s speech to the joint session of Congress last night (text here) was a triumph for the president. Without a doubt, Mr. Trump delivered one of the most effective speeches of his political career.
Stylistically, the president was smooth and practiced. The speech was in sharp contrast to his disjointed stump speeches and press conferences. Mr. Trump proved that he can deliver a polished, rehearsed speech with minimal ad libbing. In a word, Mr. Trump seemed presidential.
To a conservative, the content of the speech was a mixed bag. Much of what I heard involved new federal spending by a government that is broke. While I applaud Mr. Trump’s desire to expand the defense budget and believe that rebuilding the military is long overdue, I would have liked to hear that the new spending would be balanced by spending cuts elsewhere. Instead, I heard that there would be more spending domestically.
“America has spent approximately six trillion dollars in the Middle East, all this while our infrastructure at home is crumbling,” Trump said in a statement that sounded like it could have come from Barack Obama. “With this six trillion dollars we could have rebuilt our country — twice.”
Trump continued, sounding even more like Obama circa 2009, “To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.”
America has already tried a near-trillion-dollar stimulus. It failed to stimulate the economy or the job market. It didn’t work. We woke up afterward with eight years of economic stagnation and a national debt that had almost doubled.
“I believe strongly in free trade but it also has to be FAIR TRADE,” Donald Trump said.
I distrust politicians who talk about fairness. Fairness is the opposite of freedom because it relies on government to determine what is fair. Fairness is subjective. What is fair is at the discretion of who defines fairness. When fairness is the goal, government grows because government is the ultimate arbiter of fairness… if you can hire enough lobbyists to advance your notion of fairness.
When Barack Obama said that he wanted people to pay their “fair share,” I held onto my wallet. When I hear Donald Trump talk about fair trade, I expect that, if he gets his way, I will be paying more when I go to the store.
President Trump’s speech did have plenty for conservatives to applaud. His support for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare was much needed. Hopefully, he will take the lead on unifying congressional Republicans around a single plan. Trump’s promise of tax reform is also much needed. His victory lap over the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was well deserved. His support for law enforcement after Barack Obama’s equivocations was reassuring.
Also reassuring was President Trump’s expressed support for immigration reform. While Trump did stress violent crimes carried out by illegal immigrants and promised again to build his wall, he did open the door to the bipartisan compromise that will be necessary to resolve the problem of illegal immigration. The claim that Mexico would pay for the wall was conspicuously absent.
There was a shortage on specifics in general, but especially on how a broke government will pay for his many programs.
The most moving part of the night – and probably the longest of many ovations – was for President Trump’s salute to US Navy Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, who recently died on a raid against al-Qaeda in Yemen. It is doubtful if there was a dry eye in the house as the president recognized Ryan’s widow, Carryn.
Reaction to the speech will largely depend on what camp the listener falls into. Trump supporters will justifiably claim that he hit a homerun. Trump opponents will point to flawed policies and very questionable claims and statistics.
As a conservative who voted for “none of the above,” I can at least think that Trump is, so far, better than Hillary would have been. Other than not withdrawing from the TPP, I cannot think of anything that Hillary would have said that would have been more palatable than Mr. Trump’s speech. A low bar, I know. President Trump, for all his flaws, has so far supported at least a partially conservative agenda and appointed some (not all) very good people to very important jobs.
Nevertheless, as the speech opened and closed, it’s easy to hear Trump saying, “Generations from now, we will look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and jobs for the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.”
How did that work out?