‘If you are white and rich, he had a point,’ and other commentary about Trump’s State of the Union address

President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union speech Tuesday.
President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union speech Tuesday. Washington Post

A roundup of commentary about President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night:

From the L.A. Times:

In his first State of the Union address, President Trump spoke in an almost conciliatory tone that largely eschewed his usual bluster. Yet the underlying message was his familiar appeal to fear and resentment, particularly toward noncitizens and foreign adversaries. And the agenda he laid out was, with few exceptions, a thinly detailed retread of past pronouncements.

From Bloomberg View:

As he is sometimes able, President Donald Trump summoned his dignity, suppressed his grievances, and read scripted words uneventfully for 80 minutes last night, in his first State of the Union address. It amounted to an elegy for what might’ve been.

Rhetorically, the speech was more or less normal. It avoided the belligerence of Trump’s inaugural and the bombast of his rallies.

Policy-wise, the speech was more ambitious – and thus more disappointing. Trump invited bipartisan support for a big infrastructure deal and a bargain on immigration. He called for a national effort to combat opioid addiction. He expressed enthusiasm for job training, vocational schools and prison reform.

These are reasonable (if debatable) policies and sentiments. In fact, if Trump had acted on them faithfully his presidency might now look very different.

From Republican consultant Frank Luntz:

This speech represents the presidential performance that Trump observers have been waiting for – brilliant mix of numbers and stories, humility and aggressiveness, traditional conservatism and political populism.

Only one word qualifies: Wow.

From National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru:

A State of the Union address is designed, of course, to garner good reviews and boost a president’s popularity. But it also serves other purposes. A president can use it to set priorities for his administration and party – to get everyone on his side working together. He can use it to lay the groundwork for future legislative proposals.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address barely attempted this. He did some of the standard political work any president would do: taking credit for national successes, touting policy victories. But he did almost nothing to set an agenda.

The early line on the speech, as on so many Trump speeches, is that it was “presidential.” But it was unlike the addresses of most presidents in its nearly total refusal to lay out any ideas for the future.

From Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen:

His speech was moving. It was reasonable. It was bipartisan. And it worked. A CBS News-YouGov instant poll found that 75 percent of viewers approved of Trump’s speech while only 25 percent disapproved. Those who approved included 97 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and even 43 percent of Democrats.

In other words, Trump won over a lot of Americans with his State of the Union address – at least for the night. He created an opening. Let’s see what he does with it.

From Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin:

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address was the perfect reflection of him – self-satisfied, self-congratulatory, disingenuous and entirely lacking in empathy. “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream,” he declared, as if the dystopia of the Barack Obama years – that bleak, losing, crime-ridden nightmare – had vanished in a short year to be replaced by nirvana. And if you are white and rich, he had a point.

After a year of unrivaled (since the Civil War) animosity, race-baiting, demonizing opponents (which in his mind includes the press), he called for unity. “Unity is really what I’m striving for, to bring the country together,” is in one sense arguably the most disingenuous line of his presidency; but if by unity he demands agreement, capitulation and unqualified praise, then yes, that is what he has been shooting for. In fact this was a long harangue against immigrants masquerading as a State of the Union address.