Low bar set by Trump helps ensure congress speech seen as a success

US President slips back into familiar tropes in speech with precious little policy detail

Donald Trump promises a new era of American greatness as he delivers his first speech to the US Congress. Video: The White House

 

Just after 9pm on Tuesday evening, US president Donald J Trump entered the oak-panelled chamber of the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.

The tradition of the presidential address to Congress stretches back to George Washington who spoke to the joint houses in 1790.  

Would the 45th president of the United States be humbled by the presence of history?

As the speech commenced it seemed that Trump might just deliver a more inclusive, less divisive speech than his usual polemic.

He opened with a reference to Black History Month, a reminder, he said, of the work that still remains on the nation’s path towards civil rights, prompting applause from both the Democratic and Republican side of the House.

But within minutes he had slipped back into the familiar tropes and promises that defined his election campaign.

Predicting that “a new chapter of American Greatness is now beginning,” he revived old campaign pledges.

“Dying industries will come roaring back to life,” a new immigration plan would save “billions and billions of dollars,” while the work had already begun to “drain the swamp of government corruption.”

While the tone of Tuesday night’s speech, which was carried live on TV stations across the nation, showed a more presidential side to Trump, it contained precious little detail.

He pledged to “repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better Healthcare,” without any detail on how this will be achieved.

‘Great wall’

Trump reiterated his plan to build a “great, great wall” on America’s southern border, without offering suggestions for how this will be financed.

He repeated his campaign pledge to reform America’s tax system but without any insight into how this will be achieved, stating only that his economic team is “developing” historic tax reform so that American companies “can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone”.

Many of the statistics he quoted were plucked from speeches delivered last week – 60,000 factories have closed since China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, more than a quarter of manufacturing jobs have disappeared since the North Atlantic Free Trade Association (NAFTA) was formed.

Tuesday night’s address was a new experience for a man who has been accustomed to delivering speeches surrounded by adoring fans and loyal supporters.

Trump could not fail to be distracted by the sea of dazzling white to the right of him as he spoke, as rows and rows of Democratic congresswomen wore white as a symbol of women’s emancipation. Within seconds of his speech ending Democrats filed out of the chamber.

But the atmosphere of restrained anger coming from the Democrats in the room was more than compensated by the frenzied applause and cheers from the Republican benches.

Division

Growing signs of division within the Republican ranks this week over Obamacare appeared to be put to one side on Tuesday night as the Republican representatives gave their president a rousing welcome.

As if sensing the positive reception to his address in the chamber, Trump appeared to warm to his audience as the speech went on, becoming visibly more relaxed and going off script during the hour-long address.

As Trump speeches go, his first address to the joint Houses of Congress is likely to be deemed a success.

But perhaps it is a measure of how low the bar has been set by Donald Trump, that any speech that avoids incendiary comments about race, immigration or the media is regarded as an accomplishment by a president who has rewritten all the rules.

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