President Trump’s first speech to Congress was filled with optimism for the future, a genuine sense of destiny for what Trump describes as America’s internal greatness, a few but generally well chosen words on America’s role in engaging with the world and a tough line on protectionism as well as law and order.
Unlike many of Trump’s one-dimensional critics, Trump knows the difference between clarifying false stories on Twitter, attacking the fake news media who constantly attack and lie about him, and a dignified speech to the nation from Congress.
His speech was fluid, deeply coherent and touched on many of Trump’s classic themes which he spoke of during the long campaign.
Here are the key moments.
1. It’s The End of Free Trade As We Know It
The main theme of the speech was protectionism. Trump restated the mantra that his goal is for companies to ‘buy American and hire American’.
To this end, he promised to lift the tax burden on American companies, cut taxes for America’s middle class, encourage job creation and to make it difficult for American companies to off-shore their production.
He even referenced Lincoln to bolster his protectionist credentials as indeed, prior to the mid-20th century, the Republican party was a committed protectionist party.
Trump is bringing this tradition back and in doing has saved the Republican’s electoral fortunes among America’s dismayed working class voters who have been sold out by the Democrat’s embrace of what Trump calls unfair free trade deals. Even many instinctively free-trade Republicans ought to be grateful to Trump for this.
As he did during the campaign, Trump emphasised that putting America first means building infrastructure at home, rather than spending on the infrastructure of foreign lands.
Trump has made protectionism great again.
2. Law and Order
Trump said a great deal on the crime problem in America’s cities. He pledged to support states and local authorities in their war against violent criminal gangs and promised to expel foreign criminals from the United States.
He spoke a great deal about the drug problem and explained that stopping the inflow of narcotics to the US is one of the main reasons he will build the Mexican border wall.
He also correctly understands that in the America context, the best prevention for the plague of terrorism is to not allow aliens into the country who cannot be properly vetted. Trump’s plan to stop terrorism from coming to the US is by not letting potential terrorists in. In 2001, I roundly criticised George W. Bush for neglecting to realise this essential point. Trump has corrected this mistake.
After years of a softly-softly approach to law and order, Trump’s support of law, order and the men and women of the police, is a breath of fresh air.
3. A Subtle But Unmistakable Anti-war/Anti-interventionist Message
The vast majority of Trump’s speech was devoted to domestic issues, but when towards the end of the speech, Trump spoke of America’s relationship to other countries, he struck the same tone he did at his inauguration.
“We will respect historic institutions, but we will also respect the sovereign rights of nations…We must learn from the mistakes of the past — we have seen the war and destruction that have raged across our world. The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long process of rebuilding”
He stated that America has no intention of abandoning allies but that all allies including and especially those in NATO must pay their fair share and carry their own burdens.
Crucially, he lambasted Obama’s ideologically based foreign policy in saying that America respects the right of all nations to ‘chart their own course’.
Although Trump did not once say the word ‘Russia’, he alluded to his stated desire to end Cold War 2.0 and at least attempt to have good relations with Russia, he stated,
“America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. We want peace, wherever peace can be found. America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies, decades ago, fought on the opposite side of these World Wars. This history should give us all faith in the possibilities for a better world.”.
The obvious implication here is Russia.
The only other remarks on foreign affairs were a broad commitment to smashing ISIS, a tiny bit of tough talk on Iran in respect of sanctions and a reminder that he is pro-Israel.
The aggregate effect of his remarks on foreign policy remains one of non-intervention, something which must have upset most Democrats and many Republicans also.
A memorable line was,
“My job is not to represent the world, my job is to represent the United States of America”
4. Repealing Obamacare
From the onset, Obamacare was a corporatist monstrosity masquerading as socialism. Trump made it clear that he felt that mandating American’s to pay for private insurers on a government list under penalty of law, is not the right solution. I would say it is down right un-American.
Trump pledged to replace this failed corporatist sham of a system with a cheaper, more efficient system that gives better heath care to people and allows people to once again choose their own doctors.
5. Draining The Swamp
Considering that Congress was one of the places Trump named as an element of the D.C. swamp, he could have stumbled into a trap on this issue. He kept it simple and spoke of his order banning White House officials from becoming lobbyists for five years and a lifetime ban on such individuals lobbying for foreign interests.
The message was one against the gravy train of D.C. policies.
Overall, Trump was himself, he was human, he was clear, his points remained consistent. But he also delivered a speech with class, dignity and the kind of optimism despite perilous times that ultimately won him the election.