The tone was different – which is a concession to the widespread opposition to Trump and his low standing in public opinion polls; what other option did Trump and Bannon have – but not much else changed in a substantive sense. In fact, the political substance was worse in some ways.
Lies, false claims, and empty promises littered the speech and collided with the actual policies of the Trump administration. People’s stories of hardship and pain were cynically exploited, including the soldier who died in Yemen, whose father blames Trump for his death and refused to be part of the photo op.
Immigration reform was a joke, but not half as bad the depiction of immigrants as existential threats to the well being, wages, and job opportunities of U.S. workers.
The paternalistic, patronizing, and racist themes of earlier speeches reappeared. His economic policy, if it deserves that name and notwithstanding a temporarily bullish stock market, is unsustainable and sure to bring trouble to tens of millions and throw the country’s finances deeper into the red. This will give Trump and Congressional Republicans an excuse to turn the issue of spending on infrastructure and people’s needs into a moot question.
The poor and communities of color were warned in the speech of storms soon to come. The word “women” and the words “women’s issues” were barely mentioned. And the rest of world has every right to worry after listening to Trump last night.
Will he get a bounce in the polls? Probably, it’s hard not to. Some of the media will say that at last he acted “presidential,” while more than a few people will spin it positively even if it seems completely at war with what they know about this demagogic, crude, and ignorant lout, this poor excuse for a human being.
But the bigger questions are: How big a bounce? And will it last?
While it appeared that the Republicans in the chamber greeted Trump’s speech enthusiastically, don’t think that everyone in the GOP is on same page. As for the Democrats, if they continue to resist the political-legislative offensive to come, while projecting their own package of clear and compelling alternatives and prepare for next year’s elections – beginning with the recruitment of able and attractive congressional candidates – things could take a turn for the better sooner than we think.
One final thing: what was worse: the optic of Trump at the podium or the image of Ryan and Pence behind him? What a “Rogues Gallery!”