Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Presidential Speech

I don't actually have a lot to say about President Trump's address to the joint session of Congress, and went to bed without bothering to watch any tv news commentary about it because, frankly, I was knackered. But I awoke to find that pundits seem to have watched a different speech from the one I had. They seem to have largely judged it a very "presidential" speech. Which I think begs the question: Whose definition of "presidential"?

The word "presidential" is used like everyone is assuming the same meaning. But I'm not sure we all do have the same definition in mind when using the term. I think the connotation we've been assuming is "competent, professional, statesmanlike, credible". I think the best I can do to define the term, currently, is "of or about the current duly sworn-in occupant of the White House, who also resides at Trump Towers and Mar-A-Lago." Did President Trump give a speech--well, then, it was presidential!

He started at the top of the speech reacting to the crying need to address multiple acts of domestic terror against the Jewish community and the shooting in Kansas City. This is appropriate, if a high-profile and specific way to do so, on a day when he just earlier appeared to be implying that certain acts were hoaxes to make his administration look bad. I don't think this messaging alone should grant his office a pass when a response was delayed until it could be made in a particular display, when it seems like he discounts the real fears of minority communities, and when he (whether consciously or unconsciously) apes the opinions of a (former) Klansman.

He also gave space to honor the sacrifice of U.S. Navy Special Operator Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens by pointing out his widow, Carryn Owens. I have nothing but sympathy for her fresh grief and the obvious depth of her sorrow. But I turned the sound down through that spectacle, because I felt like he was using her as a prop. (I am not alone--earlier that day Trump seemed to blame the Generals, anyone but himself for signing off on the raid. Despite White House claims that it was wildly successful, except for the dead civilians, mostly children, the dead Navy SEAL, and not actually gathering actionable intelligence--I'm not sure what the WH definition of "successful" is. But I can't applaud Trump using a man's widow as a human shield to deflect against criticism.)

Also, Trump lied, because he does that. A lot. Many of his claims, countered even when he was on the campaign stump, have been oft-repeated by Trump, and he can't help himself. His policies are and will be based on false claims. I don't think this is helpful.

None of this was to my taste, not raised my estimation of him one iota, and I don't get what those who found this speech to be especially compelling were looking for--if it was honestly, competence, and not being a huge manipulative con, sorry, that wasn't what he provided. At best, it was a reasonable act. But listen closer, put it in context--he did not "become presidential". He is President. But he's still Trump.

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