TrumpenFuehrer News Network
2017-03-01 16:37:14 UTC
The Three Failures of Trump's Speech
Glowing reviews of the presidents first address to Congress
miss the crucial respects in which he fell short.
President Donald Trump wore a non-sparkly tie last night. His
suit fit. He seems to have upgraded his haircut too. After some
initial hesitation, Trump found something positive to say about
Black History Month and something negative about anti-Semitic
Better still, Trump worked his way through more than an hour of
television without insulting or demeaning anyone. He did not
mention his crowd sizes, argue about his vote margin, or attack
the press. Although he again trafficked in misleading or
deceptive statements, he eschewed outright lies.
Different people will have different reactions to Trumps
spotlighting of a Navy SEALs widow to immunize himself against
accusations that he cavalierly and ignorantly ordered troops
into a poorly considered combat missionbut clearly, many TV
viewers found the moment inspiring and affecting.
The first failure: Theres still no coherent agenda.
The purpose of these joint-session speeches is not, actually,
to reassure the presidents base that the leader of the country
is mentally well. The purpose of the speeches is to mobilize
support in Congress and the country for the presidents
legislative plans. President George W. Bushs 2001 address
argued for his tax cut. Barack Obamas in 2009 defended and
advanced his recovery program.
Donald Trump omitted to do anything like that. On every one of
the issues dividing House from Senate Republicanstax reform,
healthcare, immigrationTrump avoided so much as indicating a
preference, let alone leading the way. His line about Israel-
Palestine (Im looking at two-state and one-state, and I like
the one that both parties like) also seems to apply to the
issues before Congress: You guys sort it out.
Health care? If Obamacare is repealed, millions of people will
lose Medicaid coverage, including many Trump voters in states
like Ohio and Kentucky. What does the president propose to do
about that? His answer is contained in one single sentence: We
should give our great state governors the resources and
flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left
Tax reform? Donald Trump endorsed massive tax relief for the
middle class. No such relief is offered by the various plans
circulating in House and Senate. House Speaker Paul Ryan in
fact is touting a border adjustment tax that (while an
elegant solution to inefficiencies created by the present
corporate income tax) would have the side effect of increasing
costs of everyday goods like clothing, shoes, and consumer
Immigration? Senators Cotton and Purdue have introduced in the
Senate exactly the kind of immigration reform Trump supposedly
favors. Its most important featurelowering the absolute level
of immigrationwent undiscussed.
Infrastructure? Trump said he would soon ask Congress for a $1
trillion public-private program. How would it work? What would
it do? Why should Americans support him? All went unargued.
As Paul Ryan told Todays Matt Lauer on the morning of the
speech, Trump acts more like a chairman than a president,
assigning the real work of leadership to others. The trouble
is, the system cannot work that way. Without presidential
leadership, House and Senate Republicans cannot agree, laws
will not pass, and entropy will win. The February 28 speech
ominously indicated that leadership continues to be
The second failure: Theres still no plan to build a majority
coalition to support a Trump program.
Donald Trumps fierce need for approval has disabled him from
acknowledging the strategic fact of majority disapproval.
Fifty-six percent disapproval is not an insurmountable
obstacle. But how can a leader surmount a difficulty that he
insists does not exist?
In 2001, President Bushelected with a narrow popular vote
deficitreckoned with the enduring popularity of the Clinton
economic program by promising that his tax cut would leave the
essentials of that program intact. In 1993, Bill Clintonwho
had won only a 43 percent plurality of the national popular
voteresponded by adopting Ross Perots concerns with debts and
deficits as his own.
Donald Trumps political plan, by contrast, continues to be
premised on the idea that he commands a big latent pool of
public support, awaiting only activation and mobilization by
him. Unlike Bushs No Child Left Behind program or Bill Clinton
and his support for NAFTA and the death penalty, Trumps offer
to those who did not vote for him continues to belike Michael
Corleone in The GodfatherNothing.
Michael Corleone had the clout to compel acceptance of that
offer. Does Trump? A year from now, millions of Hillary Clinton
voters may face the imminent loss of Medicaid coverage. They
could be paying higher prices at Wal-Mart (thanks to Ryans
border-adjustment tax) in order to finance a tax cut for upper-
income America. If Trumps hopes for rapid job and wage growth
have come true, he may get away with it. But if not, he will
have no answer at all to those voters grievances, especially
if they feel themselves to be on the receiving end of Trumps
angry cultural politics. Numbers are not everything in American
democracy. Trumps election by itself proves that. But numbers
do matter, and a lot. Trumps plan to deal with the weight of
numbers against him remains a long-odds gamble that this
already seven-year-old economic expansion will now accelerate
rather thanas history suggestssoon come to an end.
The third failure: The scandals accumulate unanswered.
It may someday seem highly symbolic that Donald Trump delivered
his first joint session speech on the same evening that his
sons Don Jr. and Eric, and daughter Tiffany, had traveled out
of the country to open the Trump familys newest hotel: a
project build and financed by the son of a Malaysian plutocrat
with a criminal record.
Suspicions of ethical violations and foreign-espionage
penetration overshadow the Trump presidency. On the Monday
before Trumps big speech, Sean Spicer expressed angry
frustration at the refusal of the press to accept Trumps
pledged word for it that there was no there there to the
Russia connection story. By now, of course, no self-respecting
journalist accepts Donald Trumps unsubstantiated word for
anythingor Sean Spicers, either.
Last night would have been the perfect occasion to call for an
independent inquiry to vindicate Trump from unfair insinuations
that his team colluded with Russian espionage to sway the 2016
election. If Donald Trump were conscientious, last night would
have been a magnificent opportunity to review progress toward
disentangling himself from the Trump business and erecting the
ethical firewall his team again and again have promised to the
But here, too, the gamble is: Plunge ahead and hope that
nothing too damaging comes to light. Through his long business
career of big risks, big failures, and big recoveries, that
gambling instinct has propelled Donald Trump forward. It makes
sense that he manages his presidency the same way. But never
before has he faced such dangerous consequences if his gamble
goes wrong. And this time, the people who will pay such
consequences are not only Donald Trumps unfortunate investors,
lenders, suppliers, and workersbut the whole of this great
nation and its truest friends abroad.