What was billed as the first address to congress by the 45th president Tuesday night was, in reality, the first campaign speech of the 2020 election. The media watchword surrounding the speech seems to be “optimism,” and to be sure, there was no mention of “American carnage” or sending the feds to Chicago. Instead, viewers were treated to a string of what were meant to be reassuring noises. “What we are witnessing today is the renewal of the American spirit,” Trump said. “Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead. All the nations of the world—friend or foe—will find that America is strong, America is proud, and America is free.”
When the first month of an administration is marred by a nonstop torrent of controversy, finger pointing, and general chaos—take, for example, the accusations of a possibly treasonous relationship with Russia or Trump blaming his botched Yemen raid on the “generals” and Navy SEALS—ra-ra vagaries like those offered in last night’s speech weren’t optimism, but rather pathology. Trump’s bottomless reservoir of self-congratulation and vampiric need for attention compelled him to go before congress and brag about his “accomplishments.”
In other words, he simply reverted back to candidate Trump. When you’re a candidate, there’s no need to worry about pesky minutiae like being responsible for American lives, figuring out health care—which “nobody” knew was complicated—or explaining the alarming rate at which taxpayer money has been put towards Trump’s weekly sojourns to Mar-a-Lago. When you’re a candidate, you can spout hat-ready catchphrases and whip the simple into a frenzy without generating a single plan for the future. Mike Pence said it best on Good Morning America Wednesday morning: “The candidate Donald Trump is the President Donald Trump and he spoke about those priorities.”
“Dying industries will come roaring back to life,” said Trump during the joint address. “Crumbing infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our very, very beautiful land.” He continued, “Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately stop. And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity.”
The lack of anything beyond inflated, ambiguous boasting illustrated that Trump has no interested in governing; he simply wanted to win an election. The speech was meant to recap the last month of American governance and plan the next steps of his administration, but instead we got more campaigning. He’s perfectly content to let Steve Bannon, an unelected official determined to be the Goebbels to Trump’s Hitler, dictate specifics for him. But those aren’t the kind of plans one reveals during a joint address to congress—they’re the kind of plans one reveals as his nemesis is hanging by the ankles over a tank full of hungry sharks.
Campaigning for 2020 will allow Trump to downplay the utter failure of his policies and his administration’s penchant for micturating on the American Dream. It will allow him to go off book and offend most of America while making a few million trolls feel empowered. It will allow the Donald, for whom attention and power offer a better drunk than whisky, to keep the spotlight squarely on him while just offstage his lackeys continue to fuck over the lower class, marginalized communities, and anyone opposed to making America great again. The only thing missing from the speech was a mention of where to buy 2020 MAGA hats and a seig heil.