The single most impressive moment in President Trump’s first speech before a joint session of Congress came nowhere during the speech.
A half-hour before he took the stage the president could be seen sitting in the limousine with his wife practicing his speech. It was a humanizing moment and brilliant in its subtlety. Whoever planned it pulled the curtain back to show a man many believe to be an autocratic demagogue in a very vulnerable and human position – practicing for his coming presentation – and anyone who’s ever had to practice a speech for a high school class could easily identify with that moment.
The speech itself was typical of a presidential speech before Congress and as the bar was very low, and since the president didn’t go off on a tirade against domestic enemies real and imagined – well save for apparently trying to convince us every immigrant to the country is guilty of a violent crime – he got a positive public relations bounce.
The far right cheered, the far left jeered and some of us were left wondering if Congress and the president understand that between the idea and the reality falls the shadow – at least according to T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men.”
So, here we go around the prickly pear.
President Trump wishes to enter the “lawless chaos” and build a “Great, Great Wall,” and wipe our “vile enemies from the planet,” while telling us everything broken can be fixed and we should all join forces and get the job done and done right.
As far as words go, those are – in a few cases – very fine words.
I don’t want a “Great, Great Wall,” and I’m not so sure about the lawless chaos. I don’t see that. And while I agree there are petty fights among us, the president certainly has to shoulder at least some of the blame for those petty fights because of some of his petty actions on the campaign trail and in the first month he’s held office.
If the president’s first speech before Congress is a signal he is truly interested in and devoted to governing rather than inflaming the populous, then we should all welcome the switch with open arms.
But the needed bipartisanship of which the president speaks does not appear to be on the horizon and the GOP and the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame.
Monday at the White House Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters the “dam is about to break” and bipartisanship will soon unfold in all its flowery beauty. Paul Ryan said “Don’t yell dude,” when asked the question – apparently still sore since I asked him during the SCOTUS nomination if he was really Aaron Rodgers – but that’s another story.
There is little indication true bipartisanship is on the horizon and that will be the largest challenge President Trump will face now and until the midterm elections.
The GOP majority has never shown any propensity for compromise – the true sign of statesmanship. Democratic governors weren’t even around Monday at the White House to speak with reporters. The GOP, while condemning the Affordable Healthcare Act, hasn’t shown any ability to come up with a legitimate alternative in some seven years during which the Republicans could’ve done much more than complain.
McConnell stonewalled everything proposed by the previous administration and delighted in doing so. Now the Democrats, having suffered a dull aching pain are happy to show the GOP the same. This will be President Trump's greatest challenge - getting people to work together.
And there is the question of how the president plans to pay for infrastructure, defense build ups and other programs he wants - while cutting taxes.
It is also hard to reconcile the softer tone of the President’s speech and his hope for inclusion when during the same speech he talked about forming a new national agency called the “Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement,” or VOICE.
It’s a silly acronym, and there’s the sillier implication of marauding bands of immigrants “gaining a beach head,” in the country ready to do harm to the citizens of this God-fearing land.
In other words, the tone was softer, but the President’s ideas haven’t changed all that much.
Volumes could be written on why his isolationism is wildly dangerous, but I’ll save the space. In so much as the president tried to stake a claim for optimism, I will join him in that and hold him accountable for keeping hope alive.
I will pray we are not whispering together, quiet and meaningless while in this hollow valley - or we are not looking at the broken jaw of our lost kingdom.
And as we grope together, I continue to hope we don’t end in a whimper.