In his first speech to Congress, President Donald Trump set a somewhat more optimistic tone than in his dark inaugural address.
He opened Tuesday night with a welcome condemnation of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries and hate crimes, and said he wanted to deliver a message of unity and strength “from my heart.” He ended with a call for all citizens to renew the American spirit.
If only he carried that theme through the entire address. Instead, Trump mostly reverted to his longstanding and baffling premise, that he is governing a dark, crime-ridden, Gotham-like nation facing dire threats at home and abroad – not the hopeful and compassionate country we are and aspire to be.
The speech probably was well-received by his base. And his talk of economic growth probably heartened Rust Belt states he carried. But we wish he had focused more clearly on inspiring all Americans toward specific goals, which he also failed to do at his Jan. 20 inauguration. When he called for his promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which would have broader bipartisan appeal, he could have reassured doubters with some details.
Instead, Trump repeated campaign promises to his core supporters, blamed the Obama administration, mouthed GOP platitudes and highlighted some issues likely to deepen our divisions.
He sent a message with his invited guests, who included the widows of Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr. “These brave men were viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record and two prior deportations,” Trump said.
While his hasty actions have undocumented immigrants around the nation living in fear of stepped-up deportation raids, Trump now says he would be open to an immigration reform bill if there can be a compromise. But it’s not at all clear how serious he is.
After the federal courts blocked his first try, Trump said he will sign a new order limiting refugees and restricting travel from the Middle East to stop a “beachhead of terrorism” from forming inside America.
No matter how many executive orders and actions he signs, Trump needs Congress to push forward his agenda. But Republicans are not fully behind him, and some were besieged last week in town halls, where constituents told them not to touch their Obamacare benefits.
Some Republicans also are questioning Trump’s budget blueprint, which seems designed for a national security state: $54 billion more for the military, no cuts for border security, but 10 percent less for domestic programs and deeper cuts in environmental protection and foreign aid. While the $590 billion annual defense budget has declined since the peak of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the president has a lot of persuading to do that such a large increase is necessary, especially when America’s biggest threats are not conventional armies, but terrorists and rogue nations such as North Korea.
Trump’s budget outline doesn’t appear to do much for the middle class or the working, forgotten Americans about whom he claims to care. It could significantly increase federal deficits if he and the GOP Congress follow through on tax cuts, also weighted toward corporations and the wealthy.
After a rough start to his presidency – with White House infighting, plus a Russia investigation and conflicts of interest – Trump had the chance Tuesday night to turn the page. He did not fully grasp his opportunity.