“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” announced our thin-skinned Twitter warrior-in-chief in his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” said the peevish, down-punching narcissist who has scrapped pointlessly and repeatedly with TV stars, beauty pageant contestants, civil rights icons, vanquished foes and other critics.
“The time for trivial fights is behind us,” declared the hothead who is famous -- renown, even -- for picking trivial fights by telling lies and lashing back at those who correct the record.
OK. There certainly are plenty of essential issues to fight about, and if President Donald Trump was in fact signaling that he was ready to start acting and reacting like the leader of the free world and not a belligerent uncle at Thanksgiving dinner, well, great.
In that regard, the speech was auspicious.
Not that I don’t have a notebook full of objections to his assertions and quibbles with his agenda. But that he delivered a fairly normal presidential address, on topic and mostly on script, partisan but not petty, non-dystopian and reassuringly hackneyed for great stretches.
The bar was set low in that regard, and, for the first time since his subdued, gracious victory speech on election night, he cleared it.
But despite the comparative dignity and focus he brought to the evening, Trump was still the same old con man we’ve come to know -- the exaggerating simplifying, overpromising huckster who sold America’s “forgotten” heartland voters on the idea that a Manhattan real-estate tycoon not only related to their problems but understood those problems and had more than a simplistic notion of how to solve them.
“Dying industries will come roaring back to life,” he promised. “Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and railways, gleaming across our very beautiful land. Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately stop, and our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.”
More carnival barking: “We will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions and billions of dollars… I am going to bring back millions of jobs…. Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved.”
Why he persists in raising expectations to the stratosphere now that he’s actually in office, I have no idea. Force of habit, maybe. But the odds are that in these statements he’s provided clips for the campaign ads that will air against him should he run for re-election in 2020.
To whip up support for his plans to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants, Trump introduced victims of crimes committed by such immigrants, even though research shows they aren’t particularly prone to crime. And, to groans from Democrats in the audience, he announced the creation of VOICE -- an acronym for Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement – a office within the Dept. of Homeland Security that sounds as though it’s going to be an ongoing bureaucratic Willie Horton commercial.
When it came to the health-insurance problem, Trump was comparatively restrained, failing to repeat his pre-inauguration promise that “we're going to have insurance for everybody… much less expensive and much better.”
Instead he hedged by offering the outlines of a plan with greater “choice” and “access” in health-insurance, two weasel words favored by those who don’t believe that the government should guarantee a basic level of “insurance for everybody.”
That outline included nods to tax credits and health savings accounts, to lowering drug prices and malpractice awards, and to assuring “access to coverage” for those with pre-existing medical conditions.
It also included a call “to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines,” a meaningless bumper-sticker of an idea, and the suggestion that we “give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.”
What that actually means for Medicaid clients no one knows, but the takeaway from the entire health-care portion of the speech is that Trump recognizes the political if not moral imperative for the federal government to expand coverage, not just “access.”
Immigration. Health Care. Infrastructure. Jobs.
These are tough, meaningful issues that won’t be solved by platitudinous calls for unity and absurdly broad promises.
Let’s hope the president doesn’t quickly revert to form. Let’s take him at his word that the time for meaningful fights is here.
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