Trump assumes new tone, but for how long?
WASHINGTON — The Donald Trump who delivered the State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday looked to be the same determined president of the United States. But his tone was more in keeping with the advice of both critics and advisers to eschew his familiar bombastic and insulting oratorical style.
Instead, he offered his second-year proposals in a much more presidential manner, including a straightforward presentation of his major legislative plans for immigration reform. He suggested he would remain faithful to his America First framework, while including a long-term plan for U.S. citizenship for the American “dreamers” that many conservative Republicans fiercely oppose.
Trump took pains to assure them that while he is willing eventually to abandon his decision to deport the undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, through no choice of their own, he intended to protect all Americans against immigrants who have arrived posing threats as terrorists under an “open borders” policy.
“The United States is a compassionate nation,” he said, “… but as President of the United States my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.” In so declaring, Trump seemed intentionally to be drawing a distinction between immigrants generally and the native born, adding, “Americans are dreamers, too.”
He made a point of noting that Americans’ economic and physical security has been imperiled by illegal immigrants who gain entry by whatever means, including criminal members of MS-13 and other gangs. Thus he has demanded that building the southern border wall and other security measures be part of any deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program initiated by former President Obama.
Trump also included his insistence that Obama-initiated policies known as chain immigration, permitting wide family reunification and visa approval by country allocation, be abandoned. Major immigrant groups have pushed back, especially those from Mexico, other Central American countries and African countries. His recent reference to the latter, plus Haiti, as a “—– countries” still resonates in the immigration fight.
Although the president was on uncommonly good behavior in his address, his body language continued to speak of his usual self-assurance and swagger. He inaccurately boasted of having enacted “the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history,” and of a soaring stock market that he said “smashed one record after another” without noting its recovery in the Obama years.
He repeatedly joined his audience in applauding his own remarks as well as saluting the true American heroes, some naturalized, invited to first lady Melania Trump’s box in the House gallery, for their amazing service to their home or adopted land. The president was lustily and at length cheered and applauded by the often-rising Republican side of the floor, while the Democrats across the aisle clapped reservedly and mostly remained seated.
The president allowed himself only a mild dig at the pro football players who have kneeled during of the playing of the Star Spangled Banner. Lauding a 12-year-old boy in the gallery who led the planting thousands of flags on veterans’ graves, he said it “reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
Little was said of note regarding foreign policy except Trump’s reference to North Korea as “the depraved character” of its regime “to understand the nature of nuclear threat it could pose to America and her allies.” He made no mention of its leader, derided on other occasions as “Little Rocket Man.”
Unsurprisingly, Trump said nothing at all about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian elections meddling, which is under assault from a Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee as biased against the president. It has dominated most chatter elsewhere in Washington.
Nor did he avail himself of his accustomed Twitter second thoughts the next morning. How long he will maintain his flirtation with normalcy, however, is anybody’s guess, given his first-year imitation of a political bull in a china shop.
Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power. “