Since he was sworn in, President Donald Trump has given several speeches (including a Conservative Political Action Conference rant bashing the media and a campaign-style rally in Florida), one solo news conference, a TV interview with ABC News and another with Fox News's Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl, and has announced several executive orders and tweeted over and over again.
He's lied outrageously about dozens of matters — including alleged illegal votes, his margin of victory, his inauguration crowd size, crime statistics and some sort of incident in Sweden. He repeatedly demonized the press and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which struck down his Muslim travel ban. He has promised to cover "everybody" on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, build a wall, renegotiate NAFTA, present a tax plan, increase the defense budget, eradicate the Islamic State, move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and institute "extreme vetting" of immigrants from certain majority-Muslim countries.
He has, in nearly 40 days, however, not told us what the substance of any — let alone all — of his major proposals will look like. We have not received a concrete health-care plan, a tax plan, a plan to eradicate the Islamic State, a defense buildup plan nor a replacement for his invalidated travel ban. On international matters, aside from wild threats (slap tariffs on China), generic aspirations (increase respect for America), fanciful promises (negotiate a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians) and criticisms of his predecessor (on the Iran deal, most especially), we don't have actual foreign policies wherein concrete objectives and the means to attain them are spelled out.
We have yet to find out, among other things, how much Trump's spending plans will cost and how much revenue will be lost from his tax plans; how he will pay for them; how he will address the $20 trillion debt; or how he can cover the same number of people as Obamacare has done without Obamacare taxes.
Put differently, he has yet to give a presidential-style speech to lay out an attainable agenda. Neither he nor his senior White House staff members seem to understand how a presidential agenda and concrete policies are developed (and it's not by issuing a half-baked travel ban dreamed up by the xenophobic duo of Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller). His Cabinet appointees who might be capable of doing so don't have deputies or lower-level political appointees and have no idea if their ideas sync up with president's. Like Capt. James T. Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise, there are plenty of lights, sound effects and histrionics, but nothing much is happening in real life. It's a show, which is fitting because Trump is a showman above all else and a raging narcissist who does not care for the details of policy so long as he gets approval.
It's therefore hard to imagine him delivering a meaty address to the joint session of Congress on Tuesday night in the style of Presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, who had laundry lists of policy ideas to run through. We find it hard to conceive he can detail foreign goals and give a realistic assessment of our progress to date. It's hard to fill time when you don't have much of substance to say. We think it likely to be a shorter speech than most in recent years.
As for tone, with Trump we'll never know if he will jump off script to complain about the press or the reaction of the crowd. No matter how strenuously his White House flacks insist he is "unifying" and optimistic, his message and tone invariably have been dark, angry and fear-inducing.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.
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