A sunnier Trump lays out his policy goals
President Donald Trump sought to reset his tumultuous presidency this week, using his first joint address to Congress to offer an upbeat message to Americans and to declare, “The time for trivial fights is behind us.” Sticking to his prepared script, the president produced a laundry list of his main policy aims: overhauling the Affordable Care Act, making America’s trade deals more “fair,” lowering taxes on corporations and middle-class Americans, and strengthening the country’s military and borders. He defended his controversial travel ban on refugees and immigrants from war-torn countries, saying it was necessary to stop “a beachhead of terrorism” from forming in the U.S., warned of the dangers posed by illegal immigrants, and declared he would build “a great, great wall” at the southern border. But the president also outlined several initiatives that could attract bipartisan support, including paid family leave, more accessible child care, and a $1 trillion infrastructure project. He also suggested he was open to “real and positive” immigration reform. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed,” Trump said. “Every problem can be solved.”
Trump’s more optimistic, softer tone drew widespread praise from Republican lawmakers. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the speech a “home run,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mc- Connell (R-Ky.) said Trump had proven he could be “presidential.” But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump has no idea how to translate his vague and unrealistic promises into effective action. “That’s why he had such a rough 40 days,” Schumer said. “The next six months will be even more difficult than the past 40 days.” A snap CNN/ORC poll found that 57 percent of viewers had a “very positive reaction” to Trump’s speech and 21 percent viewed it “somewhat favorably.”
Trump also unveiled a broad outline of his first budget proposal. The president’s plan, which usually serves as little more than a guideline for Congress, includes a $54 billion increase in military spending, paid for by deep cuts to the State Department, the EPA, and other government agencies.
What the editorials said
After a “rocky start” in the White House, Trump provided “nervous Republicans” some reassurance with this speech, said The Wall Street Journal. His tone was “calm and measured”—in stark contrast to his “tendentious” inauguration address and the unbecoming “self-focus” of recent weeks—and he offered “notes of unity and inclusiveness.” Unfortunately, he provided Congress with no “clear markers” about what he’d like to see in tax reform and a replacement for Obamacare.
Don’t be fooled by Trump’s “sunny tone,” said The Washington Post. His speech contained “the same dark and false vision of the country” he outlined at his inauguration—one in which the borders are open and overrun, villainous illegal immigrants are preying on law-abiding Americans, and much of the country has been “impoverished” by globalization. Particularly “ugly” was his announcement that he was forming a government office dedicated to victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. This naked appeal to “raw prejudice and fear” makes a mockery of his hypocritical calls for unity.
What the columnists said
This was the best speech of Trump’s political career, said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. Striking an optimistic tone and invoking the American story aren’t difficult things to do, yet until this week the president seemed incapable of doing them. With this address, he “delivered his core message in a way that was domesticated for the presidency.” By Trump’s standards, it was a “boring” speech, said T. Becket Adams in WashingtonExaminer.com, “and that’s a good thing.” He didn’t drop any impromptu bombshells, and “didn’t attack anyone by name.” Americans want their president to be predictable, paternal, and reassuring—not alarming.
Talk about low expectations, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. All Trump did was “speak for an entire hour without sounding like an unhinged demagogue”—is that really all it takes now to be declared “presidential”? Besides, “none of this will last.” The moment the president is criticized by someone, or told he cannot have his own way, the unfiltered Trump—the petty, combative, egotistical one—will roar back to life.
Democrats should ignore Trump’s “hollow” request for unity, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. His child-care plan would provide very little money for poor and middle-class women, and his tax proposal “overwhelmingly benefits” the wealthy over the middle class. Even his $1 trillion infrastructure plan is really a scheme to give huge tax breaks to builders, and will “yield few new projects” that benefit ordinary Americans.
What’s most important is that Trump has “put himself on record as president,” said John Podhoretz in the New York Post. He has promised to build his Mexican border wall, to increase the size of the military, and to implement a “protectionist trade agenda.” These proposals aren’t leaks—they’re “explicit Trump administration policy” on which we can hold him accountable. Before this week, the president seemed incapable of getting out of campaign mode, or avoiding the “trivial fights’’ he alluded to. Now “the formal presidency has begun.”
Illustration by Fred Harper. Cover photos from AP, Newscom (2)