Donald Trump winning the presidential election was a game changer for the US – an unpredictable former television star, a performer who now has the codes to America’s nuclear weapons. Trump knows this and has used it to his advantage by ignoring scripts and teleprompters.
But this time, Trump stuck to a narrative which left listeners wondering: Who was the writer behind the speech?
Strong close, well written. Bar is low for Trump but my guess is he’ll see the benefit of trying to be presidential instead of trolling.
— John Avlon (@JohnAvlon) March 1, 2017
TRT World's Jessica Glasse discusses the content of the congressional address, an annual tradition, before we delve into how Americans reacted to the speech.
But how did America react?
So when his congressional address turned out to be tamer than expected, many people felt he might have kicked into presidential gear for the first time in 40 days. It could be that Americans have not been exposed to a more mercurial commander in chief since Ronald Reagan, who was at times prone to “contradictory statements and actions."
It was not only the comparatively stately manner Trump adopted, but also the optics of it all. So much so that soon after he introduced Carryn Owens, the widow of US Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens during his congressional address, a CNN political analyst declared that was the moment “he became president of the United States in that moment, period.”
Honouring a fallen SEAL – who died during a possibly compromised mission in Yemen, a raid Trump approved over a dinner – is expected presidential behaviour.
But his remarks on the success of the raid and suggesting the deceased Owens was very happy because of the applause he was getting during Trump's speech elicited less positive reactions:
Did...did Trump just say a slain Navy SEAL is looking down happily from heaven because his mention broke an applause record?
— Eric Geller (@ericgeller) March 1, 2017
While some responded with shock, others expressed their anger:
The Seal who died in a raid Trump ordered without proper prep or info. The Seal who died in a raid which killed dozens of Yemeni civilians. https://t.co/nvHMqFRHMh
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) March 1, 2017
Watching the grieving widow weep felt an opportunistic move to some of the viewers.
"This is really heartbreaking to watch. This administration has repeatedly invoked the death of this Navy SEAL member, while not responding to criticism from his father," New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman said.
After the speech, the public and pundits alike were torn between the almost conciliatory and positive tone – as opposed to his conjuring up an apocalyptic America – and the actual content of the speech. The verdict was swift: The AP, Guardian, New York Times, and other publications which fact-checked the president said many of the claims were out of context, exaggerated or had unclear sources.
13 lies in Trump's speech last night. https://t.co/3KVSiNPZAl
— Bruce Bartlett (@BruceBartlett) March 1, 2017
Beyond facts, people questioned whether Trump’s new crime and immigration initiative, VOICE, would create space for entrenched racism.
Trump told Congress, “I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims. The office is called VOICE: Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.”
The immediate reaction in Congress was:
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) March 1, 2017
Then there were those who took to Trump's favourite platform, Twitter:
Wow VOICE is racist propaganda and how genocides begin. #Jointsession
— Tina Dupuy (@TinaDupuy) March 1, 2017
After the speech, Mic.com hosted Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, Center for Community Change President Dorian Warren and Black Youth Project 100 National Director Charlene Carruthers to discuss Trump's remarks.
“It was exhausting, listening to tale after tale, they were some of the tallest tales I’ve heard in my life about what safety looks like and means for our people. Where I come from, coincidentally the south side of Chicago, how the president and his administration think about safety doesn’t line up with our everyday experiences,” Carruthers said.
Trump's comments on gun violence in Chicago also provoked the mayor.
Chicago mayor asks whether Trump "cares enough about violence in our city to do more than talk or tweet about it." https://t.co/I58NEZopPX
— Beth Reinhard (@bethreinhard) March 1, 2017
Most Americans, however, are waiting for the morning after. When the Tweeter in Chief wakes up to a world of 140 characters or less:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 1, 2017