The president’s first address to Congress has received generally positive reviews, but there was not much difference between this and his mostly substance-free Inaugural address. There were some of the same grandiose and unrealistic promises, and there were the same nationalist and quasi-populist themes, and as usual Trump was light on the details of what he plans to do. The main difference was one of tone, which made the speech seem like a more conventional presidential address instead of the usual rehashed campaign speech that Trump likes to give. As a speech, it worked well enough, but he barely outlined a legislative agenda and most of the few specific things he did propose are likely to run into stiff resistance in Congress. There was no explanation for how the $1 trillion infrastructure program he called for would be funded, and it is even harder to see how it will be funded if Congress agrees to the tax cuts he promised. Trump is proposing to spend a lot more on both infrastructure and the military with significantly reduced revenues, which means large and growing deficits for years to come.
The references to foreign policy were so few and brief that a listener could be forgiven for missing them. Trump reiterated his standard pledge to destroy ISIS, conveniently omitting the increased costs and risks required in trying to do this. He mentioned sanctioning Iranians over their missile program, which was fortunately the only thing he had to say about Iran. He affirmed the “unbreakable alliance with Israel” that isn’t really an alliance. He stated his “strong support” for NATO, which he oddly and wrongly described as being “forged through the bonds of two World Wars.” Trump repeated the call for allies to contribute more to their own security, which isn’t going to happen as long as the U.S. keeps increasing its military spending no matter what. There was nothing in the foreign policy sections of the speech that a previous Republican president wouldn’t have said or hasn’t already said.
The most remarkable and awful moment came when he talked about the Navy SEAL killed in the botched Yemen raid and used the man’s widow as a political prop. It seemed shameful and tacky to exploit the grief of Owens’ family in a televised address to the country. It was even more distasteful because Trump has tried ducking responsibility for the raid he ordered by shifting blame to his predecessor and his generals, and he continues to claim that the raid was a success when all signs indicate that it was not.
Trump entered office as a wartime president, but he had very little to say about this and said even less about why the U.S. is involved in wars in multiple countries around the globe. The war in Afghanistan didn’t rate a mention, and neither did the ongoing horror of the U.S.-backed war on Yemen. I suppose the very thin silver lining to this is that he didn’t announce plans to escalate U.S. involvement in either country, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do that in both places. For all of Trump’s rhetoric about peace, he gave no indication that he intends to end U.S. involvement in any of the wars it is currently fighting or enabling. I assume that is because he has no intention of doing any such thing. The U.S. remains indefinitely at war in several foreign countries while those wars are barely acknowledged or simply ignored, and the president can get away with this because almost no one in Congress and very few in the media call him on it.