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Trump’s speech: Good reviews reflect lowering of the bar

REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo
President Donald Trump speaking to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

Some reactions to President Trump’s speech to Congress:

Donald Trump is not particularly good at reading from a teleprompter. Most other recent presidents were better, although this is hardly the key qualification for the job. But, compared to the things that come out of Trump’s mouth when he is improvising (and only compared to that) last night’s address to Congress seemed Churchillian.

Compared to what we normally expect from a major address by an American president, Trump’s speech was lame, riddled with errors, and, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, there was very little there there. With apologies to someone else (I can’t seem to locate the source of this quote), “what was new was not interesting; what was interesting was not new.”

The big moment, by a mile, was the tribute to the dead soldier’s wife. I hope Carryn Owens found some comfort in it. To me, Mr. Trump’s decision to milk her public grief, to prompt the audience to keep clapping while Owens fought for composure – so he could claim afterward that the ovation had “set a record” – felt exploitative. Glenn Greenwald analyzed the moment, saying it captured “all the key ingredients of U.S. war propaganda.”

Trump also came out against racism and anti-Semitism. Amy Davidson of the New Yorker delivered a withering analysis of the dismissive way he did so.

Pundits are giving the speech pretty good reviews, but only because they have lowered the bar by comparing it to previous Trump speeches, where he goes off script and improvises from his self-centered vision in which he alone can fix things. He didn’t use the false and hideous word “carnage” (which he used in his Inaugural Address) ” to describe the situation he inherited from his predecessor, but he can’t seem to stop lying about the horrors of life in America in the immediate pre-Trump era.

For example, he described the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) as “a disaster” and “failing.” Then he listed the provisions of that law that must be preserved (like mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example), then listed some of the features he favors for Trumpcare, but not with enough details that anyone can tell whether they will end up with better access to affordable care, or not.

This has been going on for a long time. When will we see an outline with enough specifics that the costs and benefits can be reasonably scored? During the campaign, Promise Keeper Trump said that under his plan “I’m going to take care of everybody” and “the government’s gonna pay for it.” He needs to provide specifics (preferably in legislative language) on how that, and everything else he promised to do, is gonna work.

If you missed it from this morning, MinnPost’s Washington correspondent, Sam Brodey, got lots of reaction to the speech from Minnesota’s congressional delegation. The first two paragraphs:

Rep. Tom Emmer was on his feet, clapping and cheering, for most of Donald Trump’s first address to Congress as president. Rep. Keith Ellison spent nearly all of it in his seat, stone-faced.

That’s the image that sums up Trump’s speech, which found Republicans repeatedly roaring their approval of the new president, and Democrats largely sitting in silence and disbelief.

Sam Brodey’s full piece is here.

Brian Beutler of The New Republic ripped the media for the general glowing coverage of the speech 

Full text of the speech, and/or a full video of it, are available here.

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Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/01/2017 - 01:19 pm.

    “The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations”

    Any number of quotes come to mind while thinking about the President’s performance last night. I’ll content myself with Dr. Johnson: It was like ” a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/01/2017 - 01:30 pm.

    No, thank you

    “Full text of the speech, and/or a full video of it, are available here.”

    No, thank you. Once was more than enough. His singling out of Carryn Owens, even if well-intended (and I’m not convinced of that), seemed very much like local TV news coverage of someone’s child dying a particularly horrible and gruesome death—milking the death for every single possible iota of sadness and grief so as to show the viewing audience that the reporters and anchors of “XYZ-TV” can so, so, empathize with the distraught parent. It might have been the single most cynical moment of Trump’s public career. Or, perhaps it wasn’t cynical at all, and he simply doesn’t recognize emotional exploitation when he practices it.

    Beyond that, plenty of platitudes and “code words” for the Republicans in attendance, little or nothing for Democrats to be very excited about. I confess that, over the past few years, I’ve learned to be suspicious of anything that makes Paul Ryan smile and nod in approval, even more so if it makes him applaud, and there was a LOT of that going on behind Mr. Trump as he spoke.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/01/2017 - 01:37 pm.

    Saying the same thing more slowly and calmly doesn’t make the false true.

    If this speech is to signal a “presidential” Trump then all we can see how he actually works in the interests of the down-trodden catastrophe of America.

    When will we see the crime rate drop to zero ? When will we see more people covered with health insurance that is better than Obama care ? When will those 94 million who are not in the work-force have jobs ? When will the private sector jump in to bring us clean air and water–freed from the tyranny of the EPA ? When will the private sector invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure ?

    All of those fine questions and more.

    After all, whoocooda known it was all so complicated.

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/01/2017 - 02:03 pm.

    Recipe for disaster

    To keep his hardcores he can leave all his promises unfulfilled — no walls, no jobs — as long as he does two things: trot out the victims of undocumented immigrants and appear to be banning Muslims. The shameless treatment of a dead soldier’s family is frosting on the cake.

  5. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/01/2017 - 03:11 pm.


    This article and the comments remind me of watching Fox and reading the comments of Conservatives after Obama gave speech.

    How will our country and citizens ever improve? No wonder our politicians are so divergent and disfunctional.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/01/2017 - 03:50 pm.

      There are those who try to rise by inspiration to lofty goals, and there are those who try to rise by pushing down on others.

      What inspired you about the speech ?

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/01/2017 - 06:21 pm.


        He is not a hard core Fiscal Conservative or a hard core Religious Right person. Being self centered, he just wants to be popular and praised… If the moderates from both parties could actually compromise, we may be able to get something good done.

        Of course, if you are inspired by higher taxes, more government control, more welfare, more bureaucracy, etc… Then I can see how one found little to get excited about.

        So it will be interesting to see if some Democratic politicians will seek solutions that would make most Americans happy/ successful, or if they are going to give into the far left progressives.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/02/2017 - 12:26 pm.

          John–comments like “if you are inspired by higher taxes, more government control, more welfare, more bureaucracy” doesn’t represent anyone’s views except a cartoon drawn by a conservative.

          After a decade of a Republican party that had a top priority of making the president fail, now is the time for Trump and the Republican party to lay out specifics of what they propose to do–lay it out for examination by America, and Democrats. Why should they expect the Democratic party that has been told to shut-up and sit down to support what they propose when it has become entirely clear in the last few months that the Republican party and Trump have absolutely no coherent idea of how to govern in an open and transparent manner befitting a democratic society.

          Save the cartoons for the Sunday funnies.

    • Submitted by David Venne on 03/01/2017 - 04:03 pm.

      There may be a bit more to it than that.

      I think that every president since Reagan has had a try at exploiting gallery guests. And most of the State of the Union addresses I’ve seen have been not much more that laundry lists of programs with barely the faintest hint of how to get them enacted–much less funded. Trump’s distinction is taking the exercise to lower levels of competence.

      Much of what he talked about rang particularly hollow. Given his recent revelation about the complexity of health coverage it’s difficult to muster confidence he had any clue about what he was reading from the teleprompter. So it was a little difficult for this independent to get enthused.

      Possibly our politicians are so divergent because at this point in the country’s history we’re running up against a collection of issues that are fundamentally difficult to resolve: Abortion, the right to health care,
      globalization, and climate change are a few issues that come to mind. The improvement of our country will not necessarily come from resolving these, but from rising to a level of discourse that respects diversity of fact-based opinion. The early days of this administration and last night’s talk do not fill me with the hope that this will happen anytime soon.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/02/2017 - 12:14 pm.

        Personally I think folks focus on the President (any President) way too much.

        The last 6 years with Obama should have reminded us that the House and Senate are in charge, for better or worse.

        As I note above, Trump wants results and he is excited to start signing laws. The question is can the moderates in Congress ignore their fringes and start getting things done?

        As long as the fringes keep holding their respective party hostage, it could be a tough go.

  6. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/01/2017 - 04:05 pm.

    Tthank you Mr Black

    This is one of the finest “summing up” of Trump’s speech I’ve read so far and Glen Greenwald’s piece adds a bit more to the narrative… really appreciate this evaluation…not all are sucked in by Trump’s mixed up double speak, propaganda, no sir.

  7. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/01/2017 - 04:56 pm.

    footnote…the ‘other’ picture?

    …and there is a story within a story in Greenwald’s piece by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism naming the civilians; the names of the children killed in the same raid…and they had mothers but not trained in the art of unquestioned, unquestionable tactics that gained what in this latest raid?

    …could say too most sincerely, they were somebody’s child too but no one mourns them in a balcony or at least asked their names or maybe someone says just a quick comment that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time I suppose? Too often trained, brutal tactics this nation honors as they are above the rest…way to go is it…look to the heavens on that one and ask why?

  8. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/01/2017 - 08:04 pm.

    Let’s be honest

    I never ever watch, or listen to, these big presidential speeches like inaugural or State of the Union ones because nothing significant can be said there and I lived through too many Brezhnev’s speeches in my life. But I can’t imagine that this was the worst speech ever, the same as I can’t imagine that Obama’s speech would be picked apart. A simple example: “Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force” got four Pinocchios even though this is a factually absolutely correct statement, just misleading but it is everyone’s personal responsibility to figure that out (and no one is mentioning that our current labor participation is pathetic). Or using the term “milking” in reference to Carryn Owens tribute – as if all past presidents, including Obama, of course, didn’t do it if they had a chance, – is totally inappropriate. As for Obamacare, I remember how “Promise Keeper” Obama told us that we can keep our doctors or that some high ranking Democrat said that Democrats should vote for ACA in order to see what is in it… Again, a little bit more honesty, please, it may help the country.

  9. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/01/2017 - 09:31 pm.

    It is the content not the ….

    volume ! It is the same material with just one or two explosively used words left aside. To be hypnotized by a quieter presentation does not in one iota change the madness of what occurred. Inviting victims of immigration, using the widow as a manipulative tool, further twisting of the facts and so on does not in any way improve the madness. In many ways last night was even more demented then what has been happening at the White House. Everyone’s future is being given away. Our own state representative jumping on the band storm wagon should be ashamed. We have seen the aggressive and now the passive and the co-dependents are again aflutter as we all are being dragged to the bottom. The press needs to press and focus on what is being said not how it is said.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 03/01/2017 - 10:36 pm.

    Some people have different opinion:,

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/02/2017 - 02:07 pm.

      Trump’s White House sent out invitations though!

      Of course there would be a “poll” bump for Trump–many of the people watching had probably never watched a first State-of-the-Union address in their lives. But they were either Trump supporters or donors to Republican politicians or Republican registrants for voting. The White House, the day before the speech that was so uncharacteristically calm in tone, sent out a mass email invitation to watch the address. It explained what it was, how to view it, and what it would contain to bolster Trump.

      Strangely, I got two of those emailed invitations (have never registered as or donated to Republicans) and have no idea how they got my name. It felt very creepy, like Big Brother Is Watching You of Orwell fame. But the White House obviously combed lists they had to make sure that “Their People” were watching and cheering.

      This Administration treats the President’s annual address to Congress like a TV show, and sends out ads to market it. Not wonder they then tout “polls.”

      Talk about commercializing the office.

  11. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 03/02/2017 - 11:04 am.

    It was a sad picture to watch a woman’s pain, a publc cameo

    of grief…but the Trump exploitation of one woman’s grief reminds this reader also of all the mothers whose sons died in a war in Iraq…that too has been considered a mistake by many?

    Wars do that…even raids by special forces duty bound do that?

    Who cries for the children killed on the ground in this scenario for no reason who were victims of an enemy raid? Or are they mere ‘entrails’ ;expected or accepted…caught in the line of fire?. School’s out for them; life too but they are not ours to mourn?

    One woman’s tears could be multiplied how many times and let compassion be our tears too for senseless deaths whomever the victim? Do remember the children of the innocents…grief is not a many splendored thing even if the president did so carefully orchestrate the scene… did achieve his exploitation of a woman’s private grief…censor the questions then, that do arise in such a display engineered for the sake of good press I suppose?

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/02/2017 - 12:18 pm.


      Now I agree that Trump stretched it out, but please remember that no one forced the wife to be there. And I saw pain and joy in her face.

      I am sure remembering her loss and hearing her husband being praised raised many emotions within her. Likely very cathartic. Not sure why the left is focusing on the sadness?

  12. Submitted by joe smith on 03/02/2017 - 08:31 am.

    Here’s what “regular folks” heard.

    Respect for the rule of law is important, hard to argue that. Increase the amount of good paying jobs allowing more to enter middle class, not to controversial. Build up the military, half of the country agrees. Infrastructure (public/private investment) project, Dems loves this. School choice, Dems hate this. Build up inner cities, hard to argue that. Make America great again, that seems to be a dividing statement, hard to see why but it is.

    That pretty much was the speech. Hard to see how so many were upset by it.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/02/2017 - 10:53 am.

      Platitudes! Get ’em While They’re Hot!

      PJ O’Rourke once said something to the effect that a political speech is not a good speech unless someone could disagree with it. His example was that one could argue that we do have something to fear other than fear itself.

      Since it’s “hard to see” why there could be disagreement with much of what was in the President’s speech, you’re basically saying he said nothing. Can anyone oppose “making America great again?” There are those of us who think America has always been great, regardless of who is in the White House, and we may differ on the meaning of “great,” but sure, most people agree (Sorry, Mr. Putin, your opinion is irrelevant here).

      Of course, there’s nuance. What does the President really mean when he makes his non-statements? Even “regular folks” can appreciate nuance, unless you’re implying they are too dim to look past what was said to figure out what was meant.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/02/2017 - 12:30 pm.

        Unfortunately with half of voters against Trump, it really would not have mattered what he said or how he said it. And Joe did point out Trump’s positions that the Liberals would not like.

        – Reverse past defense cuts
        – Support letting Parents pick the best school for their child
        – Pressure the government bureaucracy to strive for effectiveness and efficiency
        – Adjust taxes to encourage growth of jobs in America
        – Focus immigration on bringing in immigration on candidates that can help America sooner than later.

        Maybe Democrats think making America Great is to do the opposite of the above?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/02/2017 - 01:35 pm.

          Make Bureaucrats Effective Again!

          This is a classic example of what I mean by a statement that means nothing, because no one opposes it. Is there anyone in the world who would oppose having ” the government bureaucracy . . . strive for effectiveness and efficiency?”

          If you think that liberals would oppose such a vaporous notion, you have an overly simplistic idea of what liberals think.

          There is also no correlation between tax cuts and economic growth, and if the military is underfunded, it is because it is stretched too thin. “School choice” is just a dog whistle meaning “union busting,” protestations to the contrary.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/05/2017 - 08:49 pm.

            Sorry, but wishing for efficiency / effectiveness and being unwilling to take action seems inconsistent.

            If Liberals want these… What actions are they willing to take?

            Usually it seems they work to keep the schools nearly monopolistic and the Unions / Bureaucrats in charge with ever more tax dollars. Neither seem directionally correct. Monopolies and Unions have not historically led to cost effective or efficient enterprises. Think of GM, Ford, AT&T, etc of the 1970’s. Thoughts?

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/06/2017 - 09:31 am.

              “What actions are [liberals] willing to take?”

              Well, since the liberals are not in power, it would seem the onus to come up with actions falls on conservatives. Wholesale slashing of budgets and regulations is certainly not the way to go about it (I missed the part that tells me why coal ash in streams promotes efficiency).

              “Monopolies and Unions have not historically led to cost effective or efficient enterprises.” Monopolies and unions are two different things. Unions brought us living wages for working people, paid vacations, workplace health and safety laws, and, perhaps, a measure of dignity for working people. I realize that, in MBA land, none of those are especially important, but they matter a great deal to those on the receiving end.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/06/2017 - 10:53 am.

                Strangely it seems that powerful Unions and Near monopolies do go together quite well. That is why Unions in the Private sector have been decimated by intense competition. American Consumers are not willing to pay the higher costs of union products and services, when another equally good and less expensive option is available. The only place that Unions seem to be thriving is in the near Monopolistic Public sector.

                By the way, the unions did give us good things… But they also gave us many work rules, many procedures, seniority based compensation, seniority based job security, protections for questionable employees, grievances, higher operational costs, large employment contracts, etc. Which in the case of Public Sector employees needs to be paid for by higher taxes on all of us.

                • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/06/2017 - 01:32 pm.

                  “But they also gave us . . .”

                  I wold say that a business that is saddled with many work rules and procedures doesn’t know squat about how to negotiate an agreement.

                  Michelin is–or used to be–fervently anti-union. At the same time, they were very generous to their employees. One Michelin executive was fond of saying that any company that is unionized deserves it.

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/07/2017 - 07:22 am.


                    Just take a moment and search for the MPS Employment Contracts if you want to see what complexity, ineffectiveness and inefficiency looks like. And Beth Hawkins did an excellent job of detailing the negative consequences this has on the unluckiest kids.


                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/07/2017 - 01:59 pm.


                      Union contracts are the product of bargaining between the employer and their representative. There is no necessary inefficiency inherent in them, except for the inherent imperfectibility of all human institutions (sorry–letting my Calvinist streak show).

                      With all due respect to Ms. Hawkins, she was–and, for all I know, still is–an enthusiastic and relentless backer of charter schools. Those schools have achieved impressive results only in busting unions, so I don’t find her a terribly convincing source on this issue.

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/07/2017 - 02:31 pm.

                      Facts and Data

                      You do not need to trust Beth to understand the data. It is pretty straight forward.

                      – the system rewards tenure, degrees and seniority
                      – the system does not reward taking challenging positions, performance or results

                      – the system gives higher job security and choice of position / school based on seniority
                      – therefore the expensive more senior Teachers often choose the easier students / schools. I mean why not, they get paid the same either way.

                      – this leaves the most challenged students / schools who need the best highest compensated Teachers with the lowest paid least experienced Teachers.
                      – and it places the highest paid most experienced Teachers with the kids who will do fine with any Teacher. (ie strong family and peer support)

                      So how do Liberals want to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in this case?

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/07/2017 - 02:47 pm.

                      How to Improve Things?

                      How about asking teachers? Are you convinced that their tribal loyalties run so deep that they would not support making it easier to get rid of poor teachers?

                      Or perhaps you have no confidence in the abilities of teachers to identify productive solutions? That they are motivated entirely by economic self-interest (a trait that seems to be bad only in teachers)?

                      Should we turn education over to management consultants who have no experience in education, but who have an economic interest in selling something–anything–to a willing buyer?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/02/2017 - 01:46 pm.

          Or maybe not

          We already spend more on ‘defense’ (there’s nothing defensive about B-2’s and F-35’s) than the rest of the world combined.
          “…pick the best school for their child” is dogwhistle for diverting public funds to private education, which has shown to be at best no better than public education.
          No one objects to making government more effective and efficient.
          Most economists agree that cutting taxes on the rich does not stimulate job growth.
          The ‘immigration’ statement is somewhat incoherent. We already have special immigration categories for people with special job skills.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/05/2017 - 09:22 pm.

            Please remember that Defense spending is pretty low as a percentage of the US GDP. And I would argue that the world needs the US military as much or more than ever…


            I don’t like vouchers, but I also don’t like forcing unlucky poor children to attend their local school, Especially when the Union policies ensure that the least experienced Teachers are at the schools with the children who need the best help. Remember the MP article about MPS personnel distribution.

            See my reply above

            I never recommended any specific tax cuts. Just business friendly vs unfriendly.

            Ah, but we except all comers no matter how much of the their expenses they can pay… Focusing on legal workers who do not require welfare, Medicaid, etc… It would be better for many American citizens.

  13. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/02/2017 - 02:20 pm.

    Trump is hoping that the Regular Joes and Janes out there who voted for him are satisfied with vague platitudes, and never take the time–as Trump has never taken the time on Obamacare and many, many other issue–to learn the details of policy involved.

    Plus: Can you really trust anything he says at this point? Eric was nice in his phrasing, but Trump uttered some lies again in the speech. And somebody else wrote the speech and instructed Trump not to veer from the teleprompter.

    In contrast, one of our nation’s most graceful writers and speakers, after Lincoln and FDR, was Barack Obama. A man of full paragraphs! A man who could actually sit down and tell you, for hours, what was in the Affordable Care Act, if you didn’t have your ears and brain blocked to it!

    Trump admitted himself that just last week he found out how complicated health care policy is!

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/07/2017 - 09:17 am.

    Thanks Eric

    I’m heartened to see someone with the same reaction I had. This whole thing is little surreal sometimes. Trump drops a bar on the floor and steps over it and he’s hailed as having made a “presidential” speech? Is this what we’ve sunk to? How desperate are the media to grasp at such straw?

  15. Submitted by John Appelen on 03/07/2017 - 04:29 pm.

    How To Improve Continued

    Well it seems to me that the Public Education system had decades to improve itself. Then a concerned Democrat and Republican decided that it was not, so they agreed to pass a law called NCLB.

    I hoped that if the Public Education system and Union members saw the millions of children they were leaving behind every year… That would be enough to motivate them to seriously change… But it wasn’t, they chose instead to complain about the goals, tests, intent, funding, etc, etc, etc.

    They reminded me of a student who had received a poor grade and blamed it on the test, teacher, weather, etc… Anything but themselves.

    So those millions of kids are still being left behind each year, little has changed in the “near monopolistic system” and a new group of concerned citizens are more serious about encouraging competition and improvement. For the sake of the unlucky kids. I hope something breaks loose soon.

    Just curious, do you think anything changed after Beth made MPS aware of how poorly the resources were being used? I do not know… But I think not.

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