Donald Trump’s first state of the union address sent a clear message that the president is not prepared to compromise on his fundamental and core beliefs. His long-stated mantra has been to “put America first” and to “make America great” again.
If anyone thought he was going to abandon either of those guiding principles to curry favour or gain quarter with opponents, then his speech should leave no doubt that such a surrender is not forthcoming.
In everything from overhauling immigration laws (“current broken system”) to staying the course on tax reform (replacing “the old broken system”), Trump stayed true to the campaign rhetoric that won him the White House. As regards confronting terrorists (“extinguish,” “annihilate”) to trade deals (“fair” and “reciprocal”), Trump displays a constancy of purpose that should cheer his supporters and bring no end of apoplexy-inducing frustration to his enemies and detractors.
Say what you will about Trump but the man is consistent. Unlike many politicians, he doesn’t bend with shifting poll numbers. Nor does he disingenuously adopt as his own life-mission whatever issue happens to be the flavour of the month in terms of public interest or ire.
In other words, he is, at his core, not a politician at all. It probably reveals a lot as to where a person stands vis-à-vis The Donald if that statement is taken as criticism or praise. An upcoming biography of conservative icon and late U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia reveals that, where Trump was concerned, Scalia found it refreshing to have such an “unfiltered and frank” candidate for president.
If all politics is personal, then two things became crystal clear after the state of the union address because, make no mistake, people’s reaction to Trump is always personal.
- There is no conceivable way that those lined up against Trump could ever find their way to support the man. He could literally sprout wings and sprinkle fairy dust and they would accuse him of destroying the environment. Quite simply, they hate the man – and, no, that’s not hyperbole. They viscerally, wholly and completely loathe Donald Trump.
- It became clear that Trump is very skilled at connecting on that same personal level with those tens of millions of Americans who do support him and find that his words reflect their world view. Trump is not a man of nuance or shades of grey, he speaks plainly and forcefully and – just as it repulses those opposed to him – that rhetoric comforts and energizes those who find themselves unable to resist his unapologetic pro-American stance.
Not unlike Ronald Reagan before him, Trump allows a certain constituency of citizens to feel unabashed pride in the simple fact of being American. He did what every American president has done in the state of the union and stroked the ego of the citizenry by trumpeting the qualities that every American believes are an inherent part of their nature.
“… no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.”
What red-blooded, Yankee patriot with a beating heart could possibly resist that? While this may have more in common with a high school football rally than sober statesmanship, it’s as American as apple pie to always indulge that ever-present belief that Americans hold in their own exceptionalism.
Whatever the reaction to the state of the union address, here’s guessing it won’t be reasonable or measured. Nothing so far in his term has been met with either of those responses. But here is the most important takeaway: Trump’s detractors are now relegated to debating his policies and not his mere presence.
Whether they like it or not, he is the president.
In his first state of the union, he went a long way to showing why. He repeats the words and thoughts that resonate with his base.
Hey, it got him this far.
Troy Media columnist Gavin MacFadyen is a Canada-raised, U.S.-based writer. Blending insight and wit, he brings a unique perspective to the issues of the day.
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