March 02, 2017

Horse 2236 - Donald Trump's First Address To Congress: Or How Not To Say Anything New

Many many words will have already been written about Donald Trump's joint address to Congress and although I can't really offer anything other than yet another opinion on the great pile, these are more words to go upon the pile.

The thing that was constantly being said throughout the election campaign was that at some point Trump would need to pivot on tone but he never did. He subscribed to the theory that any publicity is good publicity and it was a tactic of his to double down on any and all controversies, to suck all of the oxygen out of the room. Hillary Clinton was absolutely more qualified for the position of the Presidency but Trump was able to keep the scoreboard of insanity ticking over just enough to win the job.
Even after he'd won the job, he kept right on that same tactic and kept any news about the lame duck period of Obama's tenure out of the spotlight, his inauguration address was given pretty much like yet another stump speech and a that now famous press conference where he singled out a CNN reporter as "fake news" was still keeping right on that same line. So when it came to the address to Congress, did we get anything other than what we'd already seen before? Absolutely not.

I reckon that this address to Congress could have been written by taking transcripts of stump speeches from 2016, cutting each sentence out into separate strips, throwing them all into the and them in whatever order they happened to land in, is what you got. If 90% of what he'd said in the address to Congress hadn't been said before and in some cases verbatim, then I'd be surprised. If the contents of the speech were virtually identical, save for a piece at the end calling for unity which sounded like someone else had written it (the Ivanka Trump section as opposed to the majority Steve Bannon section), then that isn't to say that what we got was this same as before because in one very obvious aspect, this speech was immensely different: delivery.

Unlike a campaign rally, the 538 members of the House and Senate know the rules of decorum within the chamber. Republicans applauded at appropriate moments while Democrats remained mostly silent. Unlike the first address to the joint sitting by Obama, there weren't any outright rude interjections and unlike Reagan's first address, there wasn't any obvious chanting in the room.
He made all of the usual calls to people in the gallery that most Presidents do in these types of speeches, outlined policy hopes which he'd repeated throughout the campaign and in doing so managed to sound "Presidential" according to the commentators in the media afterwards, which is a term which sounds utterly meaningless to me.

The problem with this speech (and indeed most President's first addresses to Congress) is that this sits in the calendar where the State Of The Union address is supposed to go; but with 39 days passing into the role, there can't ever be a lot of substance to this address. Trump in particular, who has come to power on a wave of sentiment rather than some grand vision, doesn't really have specific policies or outlines on how to achieve them yet. It also doesn’t help that he seems to be selecting a cabinet that also doesn't really have specific policies and certainly not experience in how to achieve them. In a language of management speak which would be familiar to Mr Trump; he doesn't have either a vision statement or any KPIs to indicate if he got there.

I also found it really weird that he kept on looking forward to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States. Even if Mr Trump is re-elected in 2020, his term of office ends on January 20, 2025; so there is no way that he will be President then unless he loses the 2020 election and then wins the 2024 election, in the same way that Grover Cleveland served non consecutive terms.

There was a broad wish to fix "crumbling infrastructure" but no idea of what needs to be done. There was a broad wish for paid family leave but how he's going to push that past the members of his own party is totally beyond me. There was a broad wish to spend more on the military and that will definitely find support with Republicans but that's like a magical hole into which money can be thrown forever. There was a broad wish to do something about supporting veterans better and of course there was that oft repeated series of lines about inner city crime, securing the borders and building that wall between America and Mexico.
It was like listening to the wish list of a nine year old and about as unencumbered by the thought process. This speech yet again provides proof to the thought that the Trump Presidency is like a mule with a spinning wheel¹.

We didn't learn anything new from this speech, we still have no idea how he's going to do any of the things that he's wished for and apart from the reverence for the position of office and the chamber itself, he still hasn't pivoted either. Donald Trump is Donald Trump² and evermore shall be so.

¹no-one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it.
²Brexit means Brexit. Donald Trump means Donald Trump.

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