President Donald Trump’s address to the Joint Session of Congress Tuesday night perfectly expressed his vision of American greatness. The speech was dignified, unifying, nonpartisan, and clear. It was simply the best speech Trump has given either as a candidate or as president.
Callista and I were guests of Speaker Paul Ryan and sat directly across the House Chamber from the first lady. Ironically, that meant we were on the Democratic side of the House. We watched as many of the Democrats filed in and sat in icy silence. But it was remarkable to watch as Trump’s message gradually eroded some of their indifference.
Trump opened his speech by reminding us of Black History Month, the viciousness of anti-Semitism and the tragedy of the recent racial violence in Kansas City, which left one Indian American dead and another Indian American injured along with a man who tried to stop the shooter. It was a powerful moment of great moral leadership and clearly surprised the Democrats.
But it was when President Trump mentioned his plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure that the ice on the Democratic side really started to break.
So many Democratic members represent poor districts with decaying infrastructure. President Trump grabbed their attention when he mentioned his plan to gather public and private support to build a trillion-dollars-worth of American infrastructure improvements.
After watching their reaction Tuesday night, I think it is very likely he will get up to a third of the Democrats to vote for a Trump-inspired infrastructure bill.
Finally, Trump’s tribute to Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy Seal Ryan Owens, who was killed in action in January while on a mission in Yemen, was heartfelt and the most emotional moment of the evening.
Everyone we could see was standing and applauding, and the president himself was leading the ovation which reportedly lasted a full two minutes.
It was a poignant moment that rivaled anything we have seen since President Ronald Reagan was in office.
One of the most impressive things about Trump’s speech was it highlighted how much Trump has learned and grown in the short amount of time he has been president.
This speech was more detailed, more eloquent, more inclusive, more focused, and more inviting than any speech he gave during the campaign. But the heart of the speech – the core of his message – was the same powerful set of proposals which enabled Trump to win the nomination, win the election and become president of the United States.
His ideals are consistent, clear and powerful – as seen in his acceptance speech in Cleveland, his great speech at Gettysburg in October where he outlined a contract with the American voter, his inaugural address, and now in this joint session speech.
President Trump is a serious man focused on achieving serious results.
As a historian, I was inspired by his reference to the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It so captures the best of Trumpism I want to share it with you:
"Imagine the wonders our country could know in America's 250th year.
“Think of the marvels we can achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people. Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope. American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect. And streets where mothers are safe from fear – schools where children learn in peace – and jobs where Americans prosper and grow -- are not too much to ask.
“When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before. For all Americans.
"This is our vision. This is our mission. But we can only get there together. We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same flag. And we are all made by the same God.
“And when we fulfill this vision; when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American Greatness began.
"The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts. The bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls. And the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action.
“From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears –inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past – and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.
“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. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America."
Tuesday night was a real step toward making American great again.