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Normally, I just read the text of presidential speeches rather than watch them being delivered. That way I get the substance and save a lot of time. But I was quite curious about how President Trump would do last night, and so I watched his remarks.
It was a good speech and at times a great one.
I was impressed by how much Mr. Trump seemed in command of the occasion. The president has positioned himself quite convincingly as the sworn enemy of the establishment, and he was speaking, well, before the establishment. The Democrats utterly disdain him — they remained sitting for more of the speech than is normal for the opposition party — and he has not yet had time to develop strong personal relationships with many of the Republicans. Any weakness would have been seized upon, and not just by the national press.
The president missed a word or two at the beginning of the speech, but he never seemed nervous, and he came across as authentic and forceful at all times.
The speech reiterated many of Mr. Trump’s themes on immigration and trade, but he didn’t just repeat talking points. One of the great powers of the presidency is the power to persuade, and Mr. Trump argued his case last night:
According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home — from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and yes, even the World Trade Center.
We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany and all over the world.
It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our Nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.
The parts of the speech referring to victims of crime and their families were skillfully done and integrated well into the main points of Mr. Trump’s remarks.
The president’s emphasis on rebuilding the military was music to my ears, and his budget submission on defense is a good step in the right direction, though, as Mr. Trump has recognized elsewhere, it will take a lot of effort, and many years, to make up for the damage done to America by the defense sequester.
I thought the ending was as strong as any I have heard in a presidential speech to Congress. Given the partisan rancor during the first month of Mr. Trump’s administration, and the refusal on the part of many to recognize the legitimacy of his presidency, his concluding remarks were generous and in places quite stirring. Note this passage:
Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people.
Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope.
American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream.
Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect.
And streets where mothers are safe from fear — schools where children learn in peace — and jobs where Americans prosper and grow — are not too much to ask.
When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before. For all Americans.
This is our vision. This is our mission.
But we can only get there together. 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.
Finally, I was pleased by the president’s theme, consistent with his inaugural speech but delivered in a much higher and more unifying tone, of putting America first. It amazes me that some find this remarkable or off-putting. I had thought that it should always be the object of the government of the United States, in all its policies, to advance the interests of the people of the United States. But the job of a leader is often to state, and restate, the obvious, and Mr. Trump showed himself a leader last night; I expect we will hear this theme often from him over the next four years.
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