The president who gave the joint session address on Tuesday night wants Washington to put aside “trivial fights” and “compromise.” He actually said this: “The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us,” that president said. “From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears.”
Who was that masked man who stood dully reading a prepared text from a teleprompter to predictable applause from Republicans and silence from Democrats — a testament to the ugliest partisan divide I have seen in this country since Vietnam?
Earlier in the day, there were reports that the president of the United States, who as a candidate called Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists,” might have finally realized that he was wrong, and was agreeing that those without papers who have been living and working in this country, and who have committed no crimes, deserve a path to citizenship. During the campaign, that widely accepted view was dismissed as “amnesty” and used by Team Trump to drive another wedge between Americans. The idea that Trump moved us past identity politics ignores that he just played it differently, pitting us against each other. Better that we blame you than blame each other, I tell myself.
But that man, the one who was finally willing to consider reason and compromise, was not the president who addressed Congress on Tuesday. He was still selling his divide and conquer message. Someday, a Democrat will be saying, “Tear down that wall, Trump.” (For those who don’t remember, that was President Reagan’s famous call on Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall.) Who would think so many of us would be missing the Reagan-Bush years of conservative sanity?
There was, of course, a moment that did remind everyone that this was in fact the same guy we saw on the stump. President Reagan initiated the tradition of having unheralded average American heroes sitting with Mrs. Reagan during addresses to Congress. It has now, sadly, become a sort of pat routine, and there was little doubt who would make Tuesday’s TV moment. After his father, out of conscience, chose not to meet with Trump, who else but the widow of the slain Navy Seal from the raid in Yemen which Trump, so far, has declared a success, and then blamed on the generals and President Obama, and then declared it a success again. Or perhaps I am missing a step. None of that interfered with the stirring television moment, nor should it, for Mrs. Owens. For Trump, on the other hand, it can hardly be seen as a “buck stops here” moment.
So the president behaved and read his speech, but if the country is any more unified on Wednesday than it was on Tuesday, you could fool me. The strategy of the man who won the White House has been to disdain the kind of Republican conventional orthodoxy that a Jeb Bush or even John Kasich were offering up as candidates, and that the man on the podium dutifully read last night.
Someone got to him. They took control of the teleprompter, and even the president can’t ad lib. They got the old-time Republicans and the RINOs (in their view, not mine) in Congress of their back, and that will be that.
In the meantime, the administration of the man who ran for president issued the most divisive and unconstitutional executive order I’ve seen, and when a Bush-appointed judge did his job and so ruled against the travel ban, the president attacked him, to the dismay of even his own Supreme Court nominee. The appointees of the man who ran for president are now taking steps to dismantle the laws empowering the Departments they now run.
Which president is the one in charge? @therealdonaldtrump. The tweeter. Does anyone doubt it? And that speech? Who could tweet that?