President Donald Trump reached for poetry and conjured a vision of common national purpose Tuesday during his first address to Congress, shifting his tone from the dark, searing approach of his previous big speeches to the nation.
Trump adopted a statesmanlike cadence, hitting notes of inspiration. For once, this most unorthodox of politicians struck a conventional presidential posture as he sought to stabilize his administration after a tumultuous five weeks in office.
Though his language was more lofty and unifying than normal, Trump gave little quarter on the substance of his policies on issues ranging from trade, defense, immigration and counterterrorism. The result was a populist, nationalistic prescription that he said would yield “a new chapter of American greatness.”
“From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears, inspired by the future, not bound by failures of the past, and guided by a vision, not blinded by our doubts,” Trump said, from the Speaker’s rostrum in the House of Representatives.
During a vitriolic campaign and a raucous start to his term, Trump has done little to reach beyond his base of deeply committed voters who revile the kind of political elites that the President was staring down as he spoke on Tuesday.
But, beset by the lowest approval ratings of any new commander-in-chief of modern times, Trump made a palpable effort to court voters who didn’t support him with an offer to lay down the battles of the past. In fact, his address ticked almost all the boxes of a traditional State of the Union style appearance.
“I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold, and daring things for our country,” Trump said. “I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment. Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America.”
It was an uplifting and unifying message that many Americans have rarely heard from Trump, who argued “the time for trivial fights is behind us.”
While Trump is not solely responsible for the coarsening of political life, his brash, Twitter-fueled approach has rocked the nation’s politics. The question now is whether the President was previewing a new, more sober political persona or whether he will return to his old habits.
The change in his tone was evident from the first moments of his speech when he condemned the recent spate of threats against Jewish community centers, vandalism at Jewish cemeteries and the shooting of two Indian men in Kansas.