It was a good speech.
Calm down. I said good.
Despite talking for an hour and 20 minutes, the longest speech since Bill Clinton’s much-mocked 2000 stem-winder, Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address did exactly what it needed to do: nothing.
It wasn’t strident; it wasn’t provocative; it wasn’t alienating; it wasn’t retributive; it wasn’t divisive – except to Democrats who would have sneered in disgust even if he’d said, “I’m sorry for all the ridiculous, mean things I’ve said the past year.”
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All disclaimers and critiques aside, there’s a rule known to all public speakers: People don’t remember what you say; they remember how you make them feel.
Only journalists, pundits, politicians, professors and speechwriters will closely examine the content of the president’s speech. The rest of America, to the extent they watched at all, will have gone to bed thinking, “Gosh, he was surprisingly good. Maybe there’s hope after all.”
Listening to post-mortems on television Wednesday morning, I was struck by the consensus that Trump sowed division in his address to the nation. I even heard words such as “horrifying” to describe certain aspects. I’m thinking: You don’t know the American people.
The crux of most of the criticism was that Trump gave a speech encouraging unity while doing the opposite. By this they meant he invoked several hot-button issues, such as the “take a knee” movement and the violence of the Salvadoran gang MS-13.
But when compared with the fire and brimstone of his inaugural address, these appeals to his base represent relatively minor flaws.
Indeed, most Americans do prefer that people show respect for the national anthem by standing, and they are fearful of the potential for violent characters to cross the border without enhanced security.
To Democratic ears, of course, Trump was fear-mongering and race-baiting, which, while not unprecedented, seems nearly as gratuitous a reaction.
Otherwise, it is only reasonable that the president cited laudable benchmarks – economic progress, surging markets (notwithstanding Tuesday’s brief plummet), and greater business confidence.
None of these tidings erase errors of Trump’s first year in office or the negative effects of his often-mean-spirited rhetoric.
Nor does it alter the realities of the ongoing Russia investigation, the likely-to-be released memo by the House Intelligence Committee or the administration’s general dysfunction. Nor am I inclined to redact the many critical columns I’ve written.
But it was a good speech.
Kathleen Parker is a Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post columnist.
Excerpts from other columnists:
The word that came to mind most often as I watched Donald Trump deliver his first State of the Union address was “pretend.”
He pretends to be a statesman, and we’re supposed to pretend that hundreds of vulgar and recklessly divisive moments before this – thousands, if we’re adding tweets – don’t negate that claim.
We’re supposed to pretend he gives a fig about decorum, though it disappears almost as soon as the teleprompter does. Above all, we’re supposed to pretend what he says today has any bearing on what he'll say tomorrow, when what he said yesterday contradicted it.
Our president lives in a world of sand and wind and make-believe, where the merest gust can alter the shape of everything, and Tuesday night’s remarks – especially his appeal for “common ground,” his vision of “all of us together” as “one American family” – should be seen in that shifting, swirling, fantastical context.
New York Times
The State of the Union is strong. I mean, President Trump didn’t trip and tumble off the platform in a homage to Chevy Chase, or press a red button on the podium and announced that he’d just launched a fleet of cruise missiles toward North Korea, or order special counsel Robert Mueller led into the House of Representatives blindfolded and in handcuffs, or gaze out toward Melania and ask for a divorce.
The truth? A teleprompter just rolled off the best speech of Donald Trump’s presidency, a sniffle-punctuated litany of praise for God, the troops and mythical clean coal from America’s first reality-show president.
And Teleprompter Trump certainly said … some of the right things.
Philadelphia Daily News
A State of the Union address is designed, of course, to garner good reviews and boost a president’s popularity. But it also serves other purposes.
A president can use it to set priorities for his administration and party. He can use it to lay the groundwork for future legislative proposals. It is a tool, in other words, for coordinating governing.
President Trump barely tried to use it that way. He did some of the standard political work any president would do: taking credit for national successes, touting policy victories.
But he did almost nothing to set an agenda.
Bloomberg View and National Review