Did President Trump make the sale, or sell America a bill of goods Tuesday night? Both.
Like those of his predecessors, Trump’s first speech to a Congress had something for everyone. He lifted heavily from the Republican playbook: Free trade. Tax cuts. Strong defense. National security. School choice. Deregulation. Repeal and replace. Law and order.
Then, he veered far off course: Paid family leave drew gasps from both sides of the aisle. Affordable childcare. Investing in women’s health. Clean air. Clear water. And, get this, “Find common ground to advance the common good.”
This from the man for whom creating divisions was a successful political strategy.
If Trump’s speech was the final realization that he is the U.S. president, not the Ugly American in Chief, then more power to him. If it was a cynical attempt to play the American people for fools, then we will have to watch, closely, what he does, not what he says.
He kicked off his speech with a nod to Black History Month and the work that needs to done. Not sure what he meant here. After all, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, just back off of pushing back against Texas’ voter ID laws to make it harder for minorities to vote.
Then again, he spoke at some length, and more authentically than he did during the campaign, about the soul-killing scourge of violent crime in inner cities, a topic the Democrats ceded ages ago, to their shame.
Trump’s vision was long and wide. The depth will be determined by Congress.
President Trump said he will launch a $1 trillion investment effort to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and create 1 million new jobs to overhaul the country roads and bridges — and also overhaul our health and education systems.
He spoke of breaking the cycles of poverty and violence. And to the shock of some in the audience announced the creation of an agency for victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
But when it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, how much will Congress agree to pony up? Republicans there are already backing off of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare. Those who had the nerve to show up at town hall meetings during the recess got an earful from their constituents, who actually like the program, warts and all.
And with all the tax cuts for business and the middle class, where the money comes from for these initiatives needs to be carefully vetted.
Trump needed to make friends, unite, inspire, attract, not repel. but reach out to the other side. The White House promised Trump’s tone on Tuesday would be upbeat. And given the black storm clouds that hovered over Trump’s inauguration speech, it was — subdued and, yes, presidential.
But the president is an actor, too. Watch what he does, not what he says.