‘Twitter Trump’ had the night off. For his first State of the Union address to Congress, ‘Teleprompter Trump’ took centre-stage.
There were very few ad-libs. No cries of “drain the swamp”. A lack of inappropriate and lewd stories about New York cocktail parties, as he offered when regaling 40,000 Boy Scouts at their annual jamboree.
On script, this was as close as Trump has come to being a conventional politician, opening with tributes to the heroic responses to a series of natural disasters that have devastated America in the last year and piling platitude upon platitude.
“If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it,” he opined, wistfully, in remarks so bland they could have been uttered by any president from any party at any time.
We’ve been here before, though.
In March last year, Trump addressed Congress for the first time and shocked the world by his low frequency. CNN political commentator and Democrat, Van Jones, even said it was the moment Trump “became president”. Yet Trump was soon after calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man”, defending white nationalists as “good people” and damning the “fake news” industry whenever possible.
Advanced warning of Tuesday’s State of the Union emphasised that Trump was in conciliatory mood. Certainly more optimistic than his inauguration speech warnings of “American carnage” that could have been delivered by Gotham City’s newest villain.
And, yes, talk of the “new American moment” and “extending an open hand” hinted at a light-touch rarely seen with Trump. Glum-faced and sceptical Democrats even cheered when Trump promised to lavish money on new infrastructure, and few would not be moved by the many stories of everyday American heroics that peppered the address.
But if ‘Teleprompter Trump’ is a mask, on occasion it slipped.
Trump pointed to “why we proudly stand for the national anthem”, a barely-disguised dig at NFL players who have taken a knee to protest injustice faced by black people. There could not have been a bigger symbol of divided America.
And with the line that “Americans are dreamers too”, Trump was differentiating between the DREAMers – youngsters brought to the US illegally who face an uncertain future – and those born in the US.
There was a flashpoint, too, when Trump suggested migrants can bring “an unlimited number of distant relatives” under the current system. “That’s lies!”, a Democrat reportedly shouted.
R E A C T I O N
From a Democrat …
Why is that whenever the President speaks of immigration it always seems to be in the context of gang members and murderers? There were dozens of DREAMers at the #SOTU tonight who could teach him a lot about…