Donald Trump took almost one full hour to layout what he believes America needs to do in order to be a great nation when it celebrates its 250th anniversary in nine years.
What made this address to Congress different is that he abandoned the harshest of rhetorical devices, opting instead to demonstrate a respect for the office he holds and for the chamber in which he spoke.
His supporters must have been pleasantly surprised; his critics had to wonder what had happened to the blustery, boastful and braggadocios man who has torn into foe after foe for more than one year.
Trump’s speech had plenty of red-meat moments for Republicans: calls to get rid of Obamacare, to ensure a strong military, to promote schools that are safe for all children. But it also had places where Democrats — who largely sat in silence as he spoke — had to grudgingly acknowledge support for what he had said: the lowering of prescription drug prices might have been the clearest example.
The most controversial moment came when the president announced the new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, or VOICE, office. An audible gasp was heard as he discussed what the office would do: represent the needs of Americans who are victims of crime committed by people who are in the country illegally. Republicans, who rose to support the president seemingly each minute, remained seated.
The emotional — and it also will be highly controversial in coming days — moment occurred when the president discussed the bravery of Navy Seal Ryan Owens, who died in Yemen about one month ago.
Mr. Owens widow, the pain of her husband’s death still clear on her face, cried as the House chamber and the president recognized his memory. The applause for her husband lasted for more than a minute.
Mr. Owens’ father has vocally criticized the president for ordering the raid that led to his son’s death and for a full investigation of what happened. He has refused to meet the president. He is unlikely to accept the president’s powerful words and public support for his deceased son.
If one theme dominated the president’s speech, it was that he will be unceasing in putting America and its people at the forefront of everything he does. Early in his address, Trump said, “The [American] people were united by one demand” during the 2016 election which was “that America must put its citizens first.”
He pledged to tackle the “terrible drug epidemic,” to reinvigorate the nation’s infrastructure, to reduce regulations that he claims hamper job creation, to build new oil pipelines “with American steel,” to raise wages, and to build “a great, great wall along our southern border.”
On multiple occasions Trump urged Republicans and Democrats to put aside partisan differences and work together. “We can only get there together,” the president said, referencing the strong, prosperous, safe nation that he wants America to be in 2026. The television pictures that caught the facial reactions of many Democrats suggested that party is in no hurry to heed his call. It was as if Democrats were fully prepared to do to this president what Republicans had done to Mr. Trump’s predecessor — say no whenever it could.