This week, the White House learned a lesson: Less tweeting, more speaking.
And I wound up facing a conundrum. What is an opinion writer to do when a president he didn’t vote for, and whom he doesn’t support, speaks to Congress and hits a home run? Can someone who seems like a bad person, and who is likely to be a bad president, still deliver a really good speech?
And what if – despite concerns about his temperament and policies – you find yourself agreeing with much of what the president said? Do you have to go back and reassess things, and see if you really support someone you thought you opposed?
I sure hope not. Over the last 21 months, I’ve put so much time and energy into disliking Trump that I don’t relish the prospect of going back to square one, wiping the slate clean, and trying to like the guy.
Nevertheless, someone would have to be a hardcore Trump hater to not give the president props for a powerful speech that was full of inspiring messages and which was masterfully delivered.
To make sure, I turned my television to the cable network that is ground zero for hardcore Trump haters: CNN. Too many of its reporters and anchors wear their hearts on their sleeves and feel compelled to defend their brand when it is attacked.
The president, in turn, is always on the attack against the network. He accuses it of trading in “fake news.”
Their relationship soured back in January when CNN reported on the existence of an unverified intelligence dossier alleging that Russia held compromising information about Trump. The scandalous details included a supposed rendezvous in a Moscow hotel with Russian prostitutes.
After Trump’s address to Congress, CNN anchor Jake Tapper – who recently scolded the president for bashing the media – made a snide remark about how Trump did a good job of reading words that his speechwriters had written for him.
CNN reporter Dana Bash was more fair. She gave Trump credit for a speech that was more presidential than his uninspiring inaugural address, which many observers agree fell flat.
Finally, CNN contributor Van Jones also heaped praise on Trump for leading a two-minute standing ovation for the widow of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, who died in an operation in Yemen. Jones called it “one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period” and said that Trump “became president of the United States” at that moment.
A CNN/ORC poll of those who watched the speech found that 78 percent of Americans had a positive response, while only 21 percent responded negatively.
You can’t have a remarkable speech without memorable lines, and Trump delivered a few. Such as: “We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same flag. And we are all made by the same God.” And this one: “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.”
And in a surprise, Trump also put in a good word for “real and positive immigration reform” if we first “improve jobs and wages for Americans, strengthen our nation’s security, and restore respect for our laws.”
You would think that Democrats in the chamber would’ve cheered that line. Instead, they stayed planted in their seats and withheld their applause. Maybe that’s because many of them don’t want a solution to the immigration problem and would rather have a campaign issue.
Of course, a speech is just a speech. Trump’s policies and priorities are more important. And there, all is not well.
For instance, the president is still cynically exploiting victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Now he is going so far as to create a special office in the Department of Homeland Security called VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement), which will serve as a liaison between victims of illegal immigrant crime and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
No word on whether the administration is creating another office to address a much more frequent occurrence: crime committed by legal residents and U.S. citizens.
For those Americans who detest this president, there is no incentive to give Trump credit for a good speech. But you had better believe they’d be bashing him if he had given a bad one.
Trump can’t win. That’s a problem, because if he doesn’t succeed at some of what he’s trying to do, the country can’t move forward. And then we all lose.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.