When President Donald Trump’s speech ended Tuesday night, there had to be a question shared in living rooms and saloons throughout the country: Where has this been?
Regardless of what pundits will say in coming days in the spin zones of partisan cable talk TV, Americans who watched the State of the Union probably slept better than they had in years. They likely found themselves questioning whether a man so often characterized as a divisive, xenophobic, racist, anti-LGBT bigot could possibly have given that speech.
Leading up to Tuesday night, we heard about the president’s intention to unify a country seldom so divided. So we expected a lot of easy talk about holding hands and trying to get along. This was more than words, at some points becoming an event that included women in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s caucus cheering the president as if they supported him.
“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year,” Trump said. “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than ever before.”
The speech became even more of a memorable event when the audience spontaneously sang “Happy Birthday” to an 81-year-old survivor of the Holocaust and the Tree of Life synagogue massacre.
If that weren’t enough, Trump used the speech to unite Joshua Kaufman, a survivor of Dachau Concentration Camp, and Herman Zeitchick, an American World War II soldier who helped save Dachau prisoners.
At least for one night, Trump exemplified how Republicans could and should speak to the public. He talked of economic policies to help improve the lives of women, minorities, children, AIDS patients and more. He talked about the need to lower prices for health care with more competition among health insurance companies, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
“No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom,” Trump said, asking for Americans to leverage that tradition.
“The decision is ours to make. We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction. Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”
Trump talked about immigration in the least hawkish manner we have heard while standing firm on the need for a “smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier” instead of the “simple concrete wall” he spoke of in the past.
“Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways,” Trump said. “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”
Though short on specific legislative proposals, Trump announced a budgetary goal to eliminate the HIV epidemic within 10 years.
The president highlighted economic indicators that are improving Americans’ lives: 5.3 million new jobs, 600,000 in manufacturing, in the past three years; rising wages; unemployment at the lowest rate in half a century; the lowest levels of unemployment in history for African-Americans, Hispanic- Americans, Asian-American and disabled Americans.
The speech showed squeamish Democrats not certain what to do with Trump’s believably unifying and positive message. Self-avowed Democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared to sneer as Trump vowed the United States would never become a socialist country like Venezuela. Democratic socialist U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared to seek whispered advice as to whether she should stand and applaud some statements. Sen. Chuck Schumer looked like he needed Tums.
The speech followed a particularly bad week for the Democratic Party. Embattled by racism and rape allegations in Virginia, the party also spent the past week answering for late-term abortion policies too extreme for most moderate pro-choice Americans.
“I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” Trump said. “Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.”
Trump closed the speech with near certain odds of a positive bounce in his approval rating.
Before Republicans get too excited, they need to remember this is still Donald Trump. What Trump giveth in a 90-minute speech, he can easily sabotage with a 3 a.m. tweet. Someone should take his phone.
Americans saw a presidential Trump on Tuesday, delivering a State of the Union address that probably ranks high among history’s best.
Democrats and Republicans alike should hope the president maintains and builds on this kind, loving and unifying demeanor and tone.
The Gazette editorial board