Trump and Circumstance
Live-Blogging Trump’s Address To Congress [CLOSED]

10:25 HZC: Try to watch Gov. Beshear from the perspective of a Bernie-supporting college student — someone angry about Ellison losing. That crowd isn’t buying this speech. The question is whether Democrats can calm the base enough to move to the center as Beshear is doing now, or whether the future of the party really is in the hands of the identity politicians.

10:24 JW: The tone of the Democratic reply to Trump’s address seems substantially less left-wing than Hillary Clinton’s campaign—evidence that Trump has moved the political center of gravity to the right in a major way.

10:22 WRM: The speech seemed to demonstrate that the political ideas and sensibility that President Trump brought to national politics is here to stay.

The Democratic response given by exactly the kind of person that many leading Democrats are trying to marginalize: centrist, fiscally responsible southern white men.

10:14 NMG: Now that it’s over, safe to point out that not a word was said about any supposed amnesty plans. According to CNN he actually did say something earlier today at the White House, so maybe something will happen. But clearly it is not enough of a White House priority to make it even into a laundry-list speech that mentioned immigration in several places, as was speculated. Much of the media spent the afternoon chasing their tails on this. Entire news cycles have become just not worth listening to lately; it’s a real problem.

10:10 WRM: The strongest Trump speech I’ve seen. The speech unifies Republicans, puts Democrats on the defensive, and didn’t give an inch on his core issues.

10:06 HZC: Three times he has said 250 years since the Declaration. It has been 241…

10:05 NMG: “America is friends today with former enemies…” Not a coincidence that CNN then cuts to Sen. John McCain, who’s been instrumental in repairing our ties with Vietnam—which now stands at the center of our anti-China policy.

10:04 WRM: Jacksonian foreign policy here: if other countries don’t attack us, they can live however they want.

10:03 WRM: European leaders have given Trump one of his biggest wins by a) failing to pay up under Obama and b) giving in to Trump.

10:01 NMG: There’s something deeply unseemly about showcasing grieving families on national television for transient telegenic moments, and that it’s become a traditional part of the SOTU makes it no better.

9:56 NMG: During the buildup to the 1924 restrictionist bill, sensationalized stories of immigrant crime – both in the form of gang crime (the Italian mob), terrorism (Eastern European anarchists), and random street crime – proved remarkably effective, if very dirty, way of mobilizing support for the restrictionist cause. President Trump is playing with some tropes with very ugly antecedents here in American history here—but critics should not underestimate the potency of what he’s doing, either.

It’s fine to be appalled by the idea that the President wants to feed stereotypes about all aliens being criminals; it would be a grave mistake to do so in ways that sound like you care more about speaking in politically correct ways than about the victims of violent crime.

9:56 WRM: Every right wing politician in Europe is watching this speech. And learning.

9:53 WRM: Trump understands that support for the police is one of the most powerful political themes in American culture.

9:52 NMG: Things that have not changed, part II: the Democrats still have to stand and clap for the pro-cop lines.

9:51 NMG: The fact that Trump did not actually mention a Right to Try bill in a section that so clearly alluded to its core concept — that the terminally ill should be free to try drugs before they’ve cleared every bit of FDA tape to make them “safe”— indicates how divorced from setting concrete policy ‘asks’ this speech has been. Maybe that’s smart; most Americans don’t care about the technical details, and those who do — largely in DC — will know what the President is talking about anyway. Or maybe it will make it difficult to link the speech to drives for real policy deliverables.

9:50 JW: Trumpism (so far) is looking like conservative boilerplate with a dash of working class-bait on immigration,trade and culture thrown in.

9:47 NMG: The rare disease portion of this event reminds me of Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot—and of how like Biden Trump is, in many ways. They share skills that have helped both of their careers, and that many of their colleagues lack.

9:46 WRM: Paid family leave: the Liberal (i.e. conservative) government in Australia did very well with this.

9:45 NMG: One of the reasons for major addresses like the State of the Union is supposedly to make clear to the Executive departments what the President’s priorities are. This speech has been a laundry list – and a very long one, of many major requests. If you were an executive-branch functionary, would you have any idea which of them the President wanted you to prioritize? (The fact that several hundred positions remain as of yet unfilled exacerbates this problem.)

9:44 JW: Trump’s healthcare “principles”—focusing on health savings accounts and federalism—closely mirror Tom Price’s plan—the consensus approach among Republicans.

9:44 WRM: Which state will become the Delaware of health insurance?

9:44 WRM: At talk of lower drug prices, the Dems rise.

9:43 WRM: A Jacksonian approach to health care: help from the government to buy the plan that you want.

9:42 WRM: As the speech wears on, Trump veers off-script more. This could get very interesting.

9:41 WRM: This is the most polarized reaction to a Joint Address I’ve ever seen.

9:40 NMG: We’ve written about the turn toward legal immigration restrictionism for the last eighteen months (see here), following a historic pattern of America in America of veering from wide-open periods in immigration to very restricted ones. We’re not at the total restriction of 1924 yet, but we’re definitely in a different phase than we were even a few years ago, when a bill that would not only grant amnesty but practically double legal immigration enjoyed bipartisan support.

9:39 HZC: There’s a lot of truth to this “we make bad deals” rhetoric. Compared even to other developed countries, America gets terrible results for very high cost on health care, infrastructure, education, and many other key services. See Tyler Cowen on this from a few days ago.

9:37 WRM: A third ring of suburbs?

9:36 NMG: Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada has preened himself mightily over Trump’s refugee EO, and liberal Americans have genuflected his way. Let’s see what they make of this.

The American immigration system is one of the foremost instances of American exceptionalism. It’s a shame President Trump’s opponents spent the last eight years talking that phrase more or less out of the national vocabulary.

9:34 WRM: Ryan stands on a Trump trade line; the apocalypse is near.

9:33 NMG: Trump’s approach to the Islamic world, in this speech at least, is very Jacksonian: no better friend, no worse enemy. (To steal a line from classical history that’s enjoyed a newfound popularity in the U.S. military.) We stand with our allies, our enemies are to be wiped from the face of the earth. But it remains to be seen how well this will work, particularly given the contrast with his rhetoric on the executive order, where the dichotomy is Muslim nations versus others, rather than friends versus enemies. But American commentators may be underestimating something: the Sunni nations who are our most important allies are locked in what they see as existential struggles with Iran and with destabilizing jihadi forces. (In that order—which may or may not be Trump’s.) The promise of loyal friendship to those who help us, and eternal enmity to mutual enemies, may outweigh some visa troubles in the minds of their governments.

9:32 WRM: One of Trump’s strongest assets, in the campaign and now: the foreign policy establishment has been responsible for a succession of, as he says, ‘tragic failures’, but has shown no real sign of a creative rethink.

9:31 HZC: It’s a pretty effective speech so far. Clearly laying out what seem to most Americans like obvious goals of their government. Fight terror, secure the border, etc. The issues on which Trump was elected, but expounded on in the form of a more-eloquent-than-usual speech.

9:30 DM: As the language gets more truculent, the President hits his stride. Trump’s age is a savage one.

9:28 WRM: Andrew Jackson smiling from the Great Beyond as Trump denounces the ‘network of lawless savages.’

9:26 JW: It was widely reported that Flynn’s replacement as National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, lobbied Trump to back off the term “radical Islamic terror.” Apparently McMaster has not prevailed on him (at least not yet).

9:25 WRM: Major divide: the Democrats don’t stand for the war on terror applause line.

9:22 WRM: This speech is also aimed at splitting white working class voters even farther from the Democrats. As Senator Joe Manchin’s applause indicates, it’s working.

9:19 WRM: This part of the speech is the worst nightmare for Democrats. How can you not applaud these things? They’re very popular, but Democrats have to sit there silently.

9:17 WRM: Trump doubles down on every promise he made during the campaign. A lot of hostages being given to fortune tonight.

9:15 DM: Trump’s got a new fitted suit—looking statesman-like—but he looks uncomfortable in it, constrained. And he’s not channeling this supposed optimism well. No “American Carnage”, this speech.

9:12 JW: Trump has so far refused to condemn high-profile hate crimes of the last few weeks; he has responded defensively to allegations that his campaign or rhetoric was related to such acts. But he just bit the bullet and said the words his critics wanted. They make it easy for him—he will get a lot of credit for jumping through a tiny hoop.

9:09 WRM: Standing ovation for President Trump at the start; not all DC traditions have died in the new era.

9:09 HZC: 

8:58 JW: From PJ Media:

The editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, says that the Russians weren’t trying to aid Trump’s campaign; he says they were trying to destabilize Hillary’s inevitable presidency. His contention is that, like everyone in the media, the Russians thought that Secretary Clinton was going to be the 45th president, and the hacks and leaks they released were intended to damage her leadership. Remnick says that the Russians are actually now fearful of Trump’s off-the-cuff attitudes and that “there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse.” This totally flies in the face of the liberal narrative that the Russians essentially put President Trump in the Oval Office.

As Trump prepares to deliver his first address to Congress, we have noticed a substantial shift in opinion on Trump’s Russia connections. Even center-left partisans seem to be backing off the idea that Russians were engaged in a conspiracy to try to elect Trump president of the United States. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still important questions about potential contacts between Trump and the Kremlin, but the more hysterical tinfoil-hat allegations seem to be declining in significance. See Walter Russell Mead’s essay about how the media went off the rails with the “Putin’s puppet” narrative.

8:55 NMG: It seems coincidental, even symbolic, that President Trump’s first Joint Address comes on Carnival (or Mardi Gras.) The President’s critics see Trump’s election as an outpouring of the grotesqueries in American life, of aspects of behavior and the psyche that should normally be kept under control. They view his Administration itself as a Carnivalesque freakshow. But The Donald himself, the consummate showman, would be the first to acknowledge that the people like a show—and that it’s been to his advantage (and a sign that he understand them) to give them one from time to time. Stephen Bannon would probably argue also that there are parts of the spirit that should be given their season, and that for too long have been repressed—that what has resulted from this Puritanical repression has been twisted and self-serving hypocrisy, rather than a pure spirit of public service, and that he is restoring the balance. Either way, we’d better hope the nation as a whole does not wind up in sackcloth and ashes come our (figurative) tomorrow.

8:52 WRM: Many Republicans are rending their garments and wearing sackcloth and ashes over Trump’s evident refusal to take on entitlement spending in his first budget. They should calm down. Despite the DC urban legend that presidents should take on the tough issues early in their tenure, it’s actually much smarter for any president, and especially this one, to win peoples’ trust before taking unpopular steps.

The presidency, despite President Obama’s boasts about his phone and his signing pen, is not as powerful an office as many think, especially where domestic policy is concerned. Presidential powers on paper are limited; what makes presidents loom large is their ability to browbeat and intimidate opponents. That power waxes and wanes with presidenital popularity. A president whose favorability ratings are in the high sixties is like the 900 gorilla; he sleeps wherever he wants. Congressmen would vote to raise their mothers’ taxes to get a photo op with the president then. But let those popularity numbers drop into the thirties, and the bully pulpit stops working.

It’s possible that someday the American people will be willing to see Washington deal with entitlements, but for that to happen there would need to be much more confidence in the abilities and the good intentions of the political elite than Americans now have.

If Trump wanted to take on entitlement reform, he’d first need to pile up a lot of political capital, and a lot of trust in the bank. The way to do that is to honor a critical mass of your campaign promises, enact some high profile legislative changes that your constituents like, and hope that the economy does well and that your poll numbers rise. Once that happens, and people begin to trust you, you can take on some tougher tasks.

The Jacksonian core of Trump’s support is much less interested in budget deficits than in the protection of government programs that help the middle class — especially after decades of worsening economic outlook for the white working class.

Trump didn’t get where he is by telling voters things they didn’t want to hear; it would be the biggest surprise of the evening if President Trump calls for any cuts in middle class entitlements. Those are exactly what he was elected to protect.

8:46 WRM: As President Trump prepares for his first appearance before the joint houses of Congress, there is no sign that the upheaval that his election signaled has come to an end. He hasn’t filled the White House with frontier revelers in coonskin caps, but many in the Establishment would prefer drunken pioneers, fleas and all, to some of the White House appointments the new president has made.

The biggest question before the country today is whether the new President can assemble a governing coalition in Congress — and for what policies? The Democrats loathe him; so do many Republicans. Neither party establishment really wishes him to succeed. What holds many Republicans in line is the fear that angry Trump voters in their districts will primary them if they don’t support President Trump, but if Trump should lose his hold on his base, that threat would dissipate. Recent outsider politicians at the state level — pro wrestler Jesse Ventura in Minnesota and Arnold Schwartzenneger in California — disappointed in office.

To hold his base, Trump must stoke the flames of populist revolt and indignation that got him this far; to succeed long term, he has to work out a deal with a part of the Washington establishment that his base despises. It’s a tough job, and there is absolutely no guarantee that he will succeed; tonight we  will begin to see how he hopes to thread the needle.

8:43 WRM: This remains one of the most dramatic presidential transitions in history. One of the most dramatic came in 1801, when Thomas Jefferson and his Democrats replaced John Adams and the Federalists after a hard fought campaign that some feared would divide the country. It was the year after George Washington died; many wondered if the country he so laboriously had assembled would remain united in his absence. Jefferson rose to the occasion, called for national unity, and, though party divisions would remain, an important precedent had been set: the transfer of power in the United States from one party to another would proceed peacefully if not always graciously.

The next fraught transition saw the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, the controversial backwoods populist who most of the Washington elite viewed with the mix of horror and contempt they now reserve for Donald Trump. Jackson rubbed their noses in the drama of transition, throwing the White House open for an all-comers-welcome inauguration bash that saw grizzeled frontiersmen in coonskin caps swilling cider and wine where Dolly Madison had once entertained. Jackson’s administration would be as tumultuous as his inauguration; he picked one fight after another with the establishment of the day, culminating in his second-term attack on the Bank of the United States. At one point Jackson’s entire cabinet with one exception resigned in protest at what they saw as his disregard of basic moral standards. If Donald Trump’s entire cabinet resigns in his first term, and he closes down the Federal Reserve in his second, we’ll have some idea what it was like to live through the Jackson years.

The next big transition came in 1861, when almost half the country seceded after Lincoln’s election. Warned that his life was in danger, Lincoln entered the capital in disguise; mobs in secessionist Baltimore tried to stop trains coming from the North. Lincoln would go on to lead the country through the bloodiest conflict in our history; things had still not settled down when his assassination brought Andrew Johnson into the White House.

Grover Cleveland’s inauguration was the next shocker; his election victory was the first time the Democrats, the bulk of whose strength lay in the former Confederacy, had controlled the White House since the Civil War. The fears that Cleveland would embrace wild eyed populism or ex-Confederate disloyalty proved unfounded; he governed the country much like a moderate Republican would have done, and although he remains the only American president to serve non-continuous terms in office (1885-1889 and 1893-1897), the stability of his administration (in the face of tough economic times) demonstrated that the old era of sectional tension was fading away.

FDR’s inauguration in 1933 was another nail-biter. Not only was the country in the depths of the worst economic depression in its history; a mass bank panic swept across the country in the final weeks of the Hoover presidency, and by the time Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office, not a single bank was open for business anywhere in the United States. This was before the era of credit cards and ATMs to say nothing of federal deposit insurance. Nobody in the United States could cash a check or get cash; nobody knew if their money would still be there when and if the banks reopened. The unemployment rate was in the neighborhood of 25 percent; the stock market had lost about 90 percent of its value, and foreign economies were in as much trouble as the United States. FDR got the banks back in business and in his first 100 days ended the drift to paralysis and collapse. It would take World War Two to truly end the Depression, but FDR’s first 100 days set the standard for all subsequent presidents.

The transition of 2017 is not, thankfully, taking place in the shadow of a depression or an impending civil war. But it is a stressful one. While Donald Trump did not gain a majority or even a plurality of the popular vote,2016 saw a sweeping repudiation of the bipartisan American establishment on an unprecedented scale. Add the Bernie vote to the Trump support, and a clear majority of Americans were voting for radical change last year.

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