Why Trump’s Congress speech heralds his makeover

Trisha de Borchgrave
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Trump's speech to Congress was on first impression a welcome harbinger of a restrained and more presidential Trump. Unsurprisingly, the almost 90 standing ovations were generated by the GOP majority, many of whom also agree with his policy priorities - if not his methods - to roll back de-regulation and universal health insurance, and reform the tax code and immigration. Above all, they yearn to turn their leader into a character fit for purpose.

In the finest of Jewish traditions, the first forty days and first forty tweeting nights of Trump’s presidency have been a period of probation, trial and much chastisement, with a good deal of judgement in between. He has shown an incapacity to rise to the grandeur, wisdom and understanding of his position, unable to lift his finger off the campaign button. It was questionable how much longer he could survive, lurching like a wounded bull in the ring, blinking through the bleeding cuts of accountability while trying to focus on the dizzying matadors' capes of civil protests, town hall rebellions, investigative news coverage, decisive court rulings and searing ridicule.


Trump’s fondness for an adversarial and divisive method of deal-making was not working, particularly when it came to the lawlessness of his refugee and travel ban. The mainstream press, smelling impeachment over his team's alarming connections to Russian intelligence, kept up with his levels of adrenaline. The techniques of deceit that won Trump the hearts and minds of the rallying crowds were insufficient to govern.

Despite this inauspicious start, his aides showed themselves canny enough to draft a powerful speech that would avoid the Trump juggernaut’s headlong rush into further barriers of disapproval, the lowest since Ronald Reagan at the commencement of a presidential first term.

From this perspective, his speech was a success; it vindicated his supporters' contention that they were not “deplorables”, gave a stay of execution to those congressmen and women whose office switchboards were catching fire with their constituents’ invective, and involuntarily triggered a feeling of national pride for many Americans who thought themselves anti-Trump.

It is difficult to acknowledge oratory that went some way to try to unite a country when it was delivered by the very person responsible for ratcheting the divisions and eroding the integrity of politicians and trust of citizens alike.

But the fact-checking page from the New York Times revealed that Trump's mis-interpretations of data - including murder rates, Obamacare premiums, and the number of Americans on food stamps and in poverty - were no worse than the average politician's assertions every time a microphone is thrust in front of him or her. His policies may be unimplementable or ineffective, but that is love and war in the business of governance, not a threat to the democratic process or to the constancy of vital international alliances.

More importantly, by dialing back the invective, Trump's address to Congress may give the chance to the heavy-weights at his cabinet table - National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis - to test their intellectual and psychological mettle against the President's animal instincts.

Sense of duty

The Republican bursts of acclaim resounded with a sense of duty, a call to arms even, for the country to move on. When Trump spoke of the importance of America’s armed forces, serving police officers and veterans, it was difficult for Democrats to deny him their visible support. The lengthy standing ovation given to the widow of William (Ryan) Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in Yemen in the first attack on Al-Qaeda that Trump authorised as President, was deeply moving; not even the most cynical could detract from her abject pain and misery. And Trump seemed genuine in his sympathy; until, that is, he called out to her that her husband - slain just over a month ago - must now be very happy with the record-breaking duration of applause he received from the chamber.

However, the dogged and lawful search to understand and hold to account Trump's role in condoning Russian state intervention in America's political process will continue.

Congress's duty lies in uncovering the facts about the Trump campaign's alleged contacts with Russian individuals, not that the US intelligence services leaked the information, as some Republicans would have everyone believe.

So, Trump’s speech was a breather. It lasted the time it took to eat that evening’s meal. Trump advocate and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been found to have lied under oath when asked whether he had any contact with the Russian government during the campaign. It seems that he too, had trouble remembering his two conversations with the same Russian Ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, with whom the now disgraced Mike Flynn did not recall discussing American sanctions.

Welcome as it was, Trump's new tone has not served as a dose of amnesia to all that preceded it. The speech was a glimmer of acknowledgement of America’s power and greatness, and about her don't-mess-with-me attitude which, when placed alongside her strong democratic checks and balances, gives us hope that this mighty and, indeed, great country will prevail.

Trisha de Borchgrave is a writer and artist based in London. She can be reached at www.trishadeborchgrave.com or @TrishdeB on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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