One after another, the pundits hailed President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress as his finest speech, though the usual naysayers were quick to snarkily add that it was his only good speech. Yuk-yuk. Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume, a serious analyst with, by his count, some 40 of these speeches under his belt, called Tuesday night’s address one of the most riveting and unforgettable speeches he’s ever heard. Hume said the general consensus was Trump “hit it out of the park.”
We agree. We wish only that he’d given this speech in Cleveland when he accepted the Republican Party nomination, and that he’d made it his stump speech thereafter. We are absolutely convinced that had he done so, he would have demolished Hillary Clinton. What enraged his critics (and dismayed so many of his supporters) was the constant and boorish showmanship. Take that out of the equation, and millions would have come to his camp.
One will be hard-pressed to tell Trump that he doesn’t know how to address an audience. He will remind you that he has the word “president” in front of his name, while 16 other Republicans and one prominent Democrat at best can be called “former presidential candidate.” But there’s a world of difference between rhetoric designed to fuel a political rally and rhetoric designed for a presidential address to the nation -- and to the world.
Suddenly, all the Trumpian silliness was gone. The theme was visionary; the tone was positive; and in the greatest change of direction, especially after eight long years of President Obama’s narcissism, there was true humility. We heard him use the first person singular only once (at the Democratic National Convention, Obama referred to himself 119 times). Instead, it was America. It was “we.” It was Reagan.
The speech was reminiscent of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Democratic National Convention speech. This was a man who rained left-wing hellfire on the world, angrily attacking everything in sight. Months before, he had called Jews “Hymies” living in “Hymie-town.” At the convention, all eyes were on him, and he threw everyone an unexpected curveball.
He said: “If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain or revived someone’s fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. ... I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds as I develop and serve. Be patient. God is not finished with me yet.”
No, Trump didn’t go there, nor did he need to. But his speech succeeded every bit as much as Jackson’s, hailed as triumphant by friends and foes alike when he needed it most.
Trump’s enemies will not congratulate him -- ever. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sat on her hands, glowering all night. Many Democrats refused to shake his hand. And Hollywood? Kathy Griffin called him an “idiot.” Charlie Sheen called him a “simpleton, Ho-ass piglet fraud.” George Takei said, “Sorry, just had to get up to throw up.” Radical leftie Twitterville was alive with the usual insults.
What did the public think? A CBS poll found that 76 percent of those who watched the speech approved. Even 40 percent of Democrats at least somewhat approved; eighteen percent strongly approved.
The speech redefined Trump. It underscored the radical ugliness of so many of his opponents. As Hume said, it was a home run.
Now, will he continue on this path, or go back?