Speaking to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump portrayed the United States as an island of civilization under siege from immigrant cartels and terrorists posing as refugees.
Trump touted a new Department of Homeland Security office that will target “criminal aliens.” He lied about immigration’s effect on the U.S. economy, boasted about sharp rollbacks to the regulatory state, renewed his call for eradicating the Affordable Care Act, hinted at further efforts to privatize the American education system, and offered a strident defense of his administration’s Muslim ban. At no point did he deviate from the “nationalist-populist” ideology his administration has adopted under top strategist Steve Bannon, former chairman of the white-nationalist website Breitbart.
On the other hand, Trump also read off a teleprompter, tossed off a cursory denunciation of “hate,” and wrapped up the speech with some pablum about how Americans should believe in themselves.
Those minor grace points were enough to earn Trump rapturous applause from the usual pundit gaggle, which is evidently willing to embrace a white-nationalist policy agenda if the presentation includes a few Hallmark aphorisms and leaves out any overt racial slurs.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza praised Trump for delivering “the best ‘big’ speech he has given as president.” CNN’s Van Jones said Trump “became President of the United States” when he acknowledged the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL, who was sitting in the audience. Colleague Dana Bash described Trump’s address as “kind of the best of his stump speeches.”
Fox News was, characteristically, even more effusive.
“I thought it was by far the best speech I ever heard Donald Trump give,” said Fox’s Chris Wallace. “It was one of the best speeches in that setting, that I’ve heard any president give.”
The response to Trump’s newly “presidential” tone was so over the top that even some Trump aides were reportedly taken aback. The Washington Post’s Robert Costa reported Wednesday morning that his sources within the White House were “frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech,” given that it signaled no substantive shift in administration policy.
But the cable talking heads weren’t the only people to fall in love with this administration all over again during the address. Trump’s white supremacist base was similarly effusive in its praise.
Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism—at least its adherents focused on the substance of Trump’s speech.