^ last night Mr. Trump did the duty required of him by Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution. Did it work ? We will see.
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Last night the man who holds the office of President spoke to a joint session of Congress in accordance with Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution : “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…”
This was a setting that augured much discomfort to a man who during the entirety of his campaign, as well as throughout the first six weeks of his occupying the Presidency, has spoken only to his adoring fans. But the Constitution left him no escape. To “give to Congress…” was a duty he took an oath to defend, and so it was : he had to speak to people at least half of whom despise him and all his works and to endure whatever less than enthusiastic response they threw his way. He is not a man who easily suffers opposition, and thus his speech did its best to not arouse it.
That was the first thing his speech was about. He had at all costs to earn applause lines, to look the hero he has boasted of being, to reassure his fans — who are not all fools and can read the “fake media” as well as anyone — that he is still their savior.
Doubtless he was so advised : speak as embracingly as you can, Sir. Whence said advice ? One wants to say his son in law Jared Kushner and Kushner’s wife, Ivanka. Reince Priebus, chief of staff, must also have played a major role. The advice was sound. Mr. Trump was often applauded — if only by half the room — and so reassured his fans that he can actually say nice things as well as harsh ones.
His nice things were the cliches of Presidential exhortation : unity, peace, our allies, prosperity, and the pursuit of big dreams — but as he had never said them, it had to be refreshing for his fans to hear him say them to the entire Congress.
Still, the ultimate purpose of his message was to reach the uncommitted independent voters who will decide his Presidential fate. Right now he has — to judge from a variety of polls published so far — little support other than 80 to 85 percent of Republicans. Democrats oppose him and his policies by about eight to one; independents by 60 to 40. Losing independents, Mr. Trump finds himself opposed by about 56 to 40. In a recent Delaware state senate special election, a District that had elected a Democrat by two points elected one by 16 — a 14 point swing. A similar swing showed up in Saturday’s special elections in Connecticut and Minnesota. Mr. Trump won his own election by the slimmest of margins; nationally he lost the popular vote by two points. A 14 point swing, from his 48.5 to 46.2 percentage loss would have him losing by 56.5 to 38.2 — numbers which would cause his party to lose easily 50 to 80 seats in the House and several in thew Senate. Little wonder that he was likely advised to get real in a hurry.
Thus his objective was to win back independent voters, to move from from 60 to 40 opposition to 60-40 support. Did he accomplish it ? That depends on whether he maintains the tone of compromise in which he spoke and supports tone with deeds.
On that score, the jury is out. While he suggested a compromise immigration reform, he also asked to establish support for victims of crimes by “illegal immigrants” — but no such support for victims of home grown terrorists. He condemned — finally — the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the horrific recent shooting of two Indian-Americans in Kansas, but he offered no support group for the victims of these actions. He spoke of support for NATO, but meanwhile his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is almost nowhere to be found and never included in high level foreign policy discussions. He spoke of peace and unity, but his Department of Homeland Security and its agents continue to intimidate, disrespect, and violate the rights of travelers foreign and domestic. He honored Black History Month, but his Attorney General only two days ago dropped opposition to a Texas vote suppression law. He claims to have done more in five weeks than any prior President, but most of what he has done has damaged the nation and coarsened our society. Tourists from abroad are cancelling vacations here; university graduates from overseas no longer dare to work here. Has acted with pen strokes, not by legislation; such legislation as he has proposed has gone nowhere, and much of what he proposed last night has been proclaimed “dead on arrival” by key GOP Senators. He has neutered many Federal agencies whose purposes he opposes, but which are charged by law with overseeing those laws, thus shirking his Article 2, Section 8 Constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
His task was complicated by the Democratic response. Many observers found former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s speech bloodless, listless; but Beshear wasn’t speaking to the f9ire gods. He was speaking to a very specific target, white working class, mostly rural voters, most of ,them not college educated, who had until 2016 almost always voted Democratic for President. As every 2016 poll made clear, large numbers of these voters shifted to the Trump column — some such counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio saw a 30 to 40 point swing ! Even a minor swing back to the Democratic column would change the 2016 result in those states, and Beshear spoke that kind of talk to that sort of voter.
Look and see what he’s doing, not what he is saying, said Beshear, who addressed health care, jobs, and wages. Will the voters he was talking to see it his way, or Trump’s ? We will find out.
Will any of the long list of policy facts that Trump might have to choice but to act upon matter to those who he hopes to seduce with words ? We shall see. He has always been a word winner. That’s how he became a reality TV star. Shouting and yelling draws attention away from what he is actually doing. It’;s a kind of con game, as many have noted. We will see if the con works when wrapped in words required by Article 2, Section 3 of our nation’s “Book of Rules.”
—- Mike Freedberg / Hedre and Sphere