From Our Future
The bad news for Democrats in President Trump's first speech to a joint session of Congress is that he exceeded expectations. A Washington Post headline called the speech "surprisingly presidential." it's likely to solidify Trump's hold on his base, and will probably gain him some additional ground.
Expectations weren't very high, especially after the apocalyptic tone of his inaugural address. The fact that he didn't announce the End of Days and call down hellfire on four-fifths of the globe probably caused sighs of relief all over the country.
Still, Trump's detractors forget that he has a gift for aspirational rhetoric that plays well among many Americans. It's a gift many Democrats seem to have lost.
Trump was clearly chastened by recent criticism over his seeming indifference to racism. He began by noting Black History Month, a wave of anti-Semitic threats and vandalism, and the shooting of two Indian-American men in Kansas City.
Trump's remarks were uplifting. We know, because he told us so.
"I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength," he said, "and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart." He spoke of "American greatness," "a new national pride," "a new surge of optimism," and "the renewal of the American spirit."
"Our children will grow up in a nation of miracles," Trump said as he promised jobs, medical breakthroughs, and the rebuilding of America's infrastructure.
The speech hewed to themes laid out by Trump political adviser Stephen Bannon at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "The center core of what we believe," Bannon said, "(is) that we're a nation with an economy... a culture and a reason for being."
That belief is as exclusionary as it is visionary. Trump's comments about economic greatness were matched, almost word for word, by fear-mongering about immigrants. When it comes to that "nation of miracles," it seems that only native-born Americans need apply.The Fine Print
The president seemed to promise a major infrastructure plan in his speech, but it's important to read the fine print. Trump said:
"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."
That connecting phrase, "financed through public and private capital," is telling. It sounds like a plan to sell off some the resources Americans hold in common -- from bridges and dams to the federal highway system -- coupled with massive corporate tax breaks and a plethora of financial deals that will funnel billions in public funds to Wall Street's already-overflowing coffers.
You didn't think Goldman Sachs was staffing his administration without getting something out of the deal, did you?Falling in Line
Trump's speech made clear he has brought most recalcitrant Republicans firmly to heel. "I am sickened by what I heard today," House Speaker Paul Ryan said last October about Trump's videotaped sexual remarks. "Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified."