President Trump’s first formal address to the nation Tuesday was the reasoned, focused showing he has needed to make since he took office. Appearing relaxed and confident, Trump finally articulated his vision — one that was contradictory at times, but which nevertheless laid out an optimistic path for a country that can “turn hopes and dreams into action” and whose people are “empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears.”
The tone was vastly different from his dark inaugural address, or the petulant, angry performance that was his first solo news conference. He focused on issues and promoted a number of favorite Republican proposals, including lower business taxes and health insurance sold across state lines, but also pushed some initiatives that are bound to rile Republicans and businesses.
He accused pharmaceutical companies of artificially inflating drug prices and said he wanted those costs lowered “immediately.” He renewed his campaign pledge to make it more difficult for American companies to leave this nation’s shores, which will make corporations nervous — no matter how much of a tax break they get.
On immigration, Trump laid down another marker, saying he wanted a system based on merit, with immigrants who could earn their keep, and which would, by throttling off illegal immigration, drive up wages for Americans. If he follows through, that would dramatically alter the longtime nod-and-wink arrangement many employers have had with government regarding the cheap, easily controlled labor source that for decades has helped them keep prices down.
Some of the bigger contradictions, which are already meeting with GOP resistance, came in the heady combination of lower corporate taxes, “massive tax relief for the middle class,” paid family leave, Medicaid flexibility for states, to ensure no one is left behind on health care, and an Eisenhower-style program of national infrastructure rebuilding. Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan who are mindful of the $20 trillion national debt are already signaling it is too rich.
Those are battles yet to come, as Trump and a GOP Congress work out a budget. What Americans will take away from Tuesday’s address is a president who at last struck an inspiring, even bipartisan tone, who asked Americans to be unafraid to dream of “American footprints on distant worlds,” and of a country where having “millions lifted from welfare to work, mothers safe from fear, schools where children learn in peace” is “not too much to ask.” That is a dramatic departure from the divisive, often angry figure seen in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, Trump reached out to the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who died in the recent Yemen attack, even loosely citing the Bible verse John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Trump closed his speech by saying that the time for small thinking was over, the time for trivial fights “behind us.” His biggest task in coming months may be to hold true to that promise and to fully embrace the responsibility that now is his, to represent all Americans.