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Columns

Can Trump Sustain Newfound Aura of Gravitas?

February 1, 2018 - 7:00am

It was a good speech.

Calm down. I said good.

Despite talking for an hour and 20 minutes, the longest speech since Bill Clinton's much-mocked 2000 stem-winder, Donald Trump's first State of the Union address did exactly what it needed to do: nothing.

It wasn't strident; it wasn't provocative; it wasn't alienating; it wasn't retributive; it wasn't divisive -- except to Democrats who would have sneered in disgust even if he'd said, "I'm sorry for all the ridiculous, mean things I've said the past year."

All disclaimers and critiques aside, there's a rule known to all public speakers: People don't remember what you say; they remember how you make them feel. Only journalists, pundits, politicians, professors and speechwriters will closely examine the content of the president's speech. The rest of America, to the extent they watched the speech at all, will have gone to bed thinking, "Gosh, he was surprisingly good. Maybe there's hope after all."

Listening to post-mortems on television Wednesday morning, I was struck by the consensus that Trump sowed division in his address to the nation. I even heard words such as "horrifying" to describe certain aspects. I'm thinking: You don't know the American people.

The crux of most of the criticism was that Trump gave a speech encouraging unity while doing the opposite. By this they meant he invoked several hot-button issues, such as the "take a knee" movement and the violence of the Salvadoran gang MS-13.

Both of these references among a smattering of others were strictly gratuitous and meant, presumably, to bestir the base. But when compared with the fire and brimstone of his inaugural address, these represent relatively minor flaws. Indeed, most Americans do prefer that people show respect for the national anthem by standing, and they are fearful of the potential for violent characters to cross the border without enhanced security.

To Democratic ears, of course, Trump was fear-mongering and race-baiting, which, while not unprecedented, seems nearly as gratuitous a reaction. This was underscored when Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III, during his State of the Union response, intoned: "Vamos a luchar por ustedes" (We're going to fight for you).

Otherwise, it is only reasonable that the president cited laudable benchmarks -- economic progress, surging markets (notwithstanding Tuesday's brief plummet), and greater business confidence. Noteworthy are recent stories about people who, through one retirement plan or another, are feeling friskier these days. Fidelity recently reported that the average annual return for 401(k)s hit 15.7 percent by the third quarter of 2017.

None of these tidings erase errors of Trump's first year in office or the negative effects of his often-mean-spirited rhetoric. Nor does it alter the realities of the ongoing Russia investigation, the likely-to-be released memo by the House Intelligence Committee or the administration's general dysfunction. Nor am I inclined to redact the many critical columns I've written.

But it was a good speech.

A more complete and fairer appraisal would note that Trump also said plenty to engage the other side of the aisle, including a $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, also known as "Dreamers." Naturally, one of the first things to pop up Wednesday morning when you Googled "SOTU and immigration" was that David Duke praised the president for his line, "Americans are dreamers, too." Please. Who cares what David Duke thinks or says?

And by the way, Trump didn't begin his day Wednesday by tweeting. Wait. Let me rephrase that: THE PRESIDENT DIDN'T TWEET!!! OMG!

Not to jump the gun -- or the shark -- but, prematurely speaking, it would seem that Trump has turned a corner. Overall, his address to Congress was conciliatory in tone; his morning after was free of the usual rant aimed at someone he doesn't like; and his speech, for all the harrumphing in the usual corners, made no matters worse.

It's a low bar, I'll concede, but in a word, he seemed "normal." Is this a new Trump? Can he sustain Tuesday night's aura of gravitas? Can he just-not-be-weird for a while? As in, no more taunting North Korea, no more slamming critics, no more "fake news," and for pity's sake, no more strategic firings. If I may suggest a mantra: I will not fire Robert Mueller; I will not fire Robert Mueller; I will not fire Robert Mueller.

My fingers keep stabbing the keyboard to write: Don't hold your breath. But a more productive observation is to say what is, in fact, true: It was a good speech, Mr. President. Congratulations. You made us feel less crazed. And that, too, is good.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Comments

Democrats, I have a question for you? How does it feel to be in a minority? Most Americans are happy with our President as you will find out later this year.

Despite your condescending "backhanded" tidbits of praise Kathleen,.. it's fairly obvious that President Trump's first "State of the Union Address", "chilled your waste" (so to speak...). {Only seven more to go, Kathleen...!} [A "New World Order" in the making,... by "We The People", assisted by "The Peoples' President"... HOOO RAHHH !!!]

and you are the people's idiot...take your fat ass back to NY and get a job you trailer park loser...

Hi "pasture Fart", hope you saw PRESIDENT Trump's speech ! (Stop sniffing those "cow patties",..."medical marijuana" is "just around the corner" for you...)

It was not bad. The problem is when a lying, mean-spirited, person says nice things, no one listens except his friends and family...and of course, the die hard, Republican wing nuts who would say he is the best president since Reagan...classic. The stock market is up, for now, but so is gas prices (nearly a dollar a gallon) and commodities. Puts all things in perspective...

The liberals are now crying. The recent CBS poll of viewers showed an 75% approval rating for the SOTU. After watching how the Democrats acted like little children at the SOTU it is a wonder the percentage was not even higher. The Democrats will wonder why they lose again in the 2018 elections/. All they need to do is remember the silly antics of the Democrats 31 Jan 1988, a date that will go down in infamy.

I'm sorry Ms. Parker, but you are not quite correct! President Trump's speech seems to have completely unhinged Jerry!! He's off the rails crazed by the speech! He is seriously in need of therapy!

I care about what David Duke says as it shows how happy racists are with Trump............... You know the fine people who were walking with the KKK, White Supremacist Trump likes so much.................And what about the constant lying to the country in that speech and in general?..................And the large increase in far right murders, terrorists here he ignores.....................The good thing is before the yr is out thanks to Trump showing the whole country just what republicans are now for openly will be their downfall as energized decent people come out in droves to get rid of them in November....................... Note how many congressional repubs are retiring as they see the writing on the wall.

I have never felt "crazed" with anything the President has done or said. I will leave that to the fake news media and the Democrats. President Trump is one smart leader. It's time that all the liberals calm down and cease being so negative over anything and everything. It was a great speech, not just "good."

So you liked the constant lying Trump did? ........... His obviously racist attacks?.................... His economics that will lead to a recession and a ballooning debt another $9T+ to pay for tax cuts to the rich, big corporations and especially himself?..................... His promise to give free money to companies to make toll roads so they can soak us for decades?................ His constant abuse of power? ................ Trump is a lying con man who will leave a huge mess to clean up. ..................... But will be the end of the republican party as shown to be completely fiscally and morally bankrupt.

"jerry",.. you are "one sick puppy"; Don't you know that even Obama "looks up to Trump", and now recognizes (from Trump's example) how to be "Presidential",...........(without constantly "caving" to an ignorant, inconsolable and illegitimate "base").

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