The morning after President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress, the Dow Jones industrial average shot up 300 points, lifting the stock market above 21,000. But the excitement of the money managers couldn’t touch the ecstasy of conservative observers. John Hinderaker of the Power Line blog gushed that the speech was “tremendous” and “inspired,” and that Trump himself was “magnificent.” Chris Wallace of Fox News dubbed the speech “one of the best speeches in that setting I’ve ever heard any president give ever by a president.”
Whoa. When you frighten people into thinking you may not have the mental stability or emotional maturity to sit behind the Resolute desk, the first sign of normality can send them into raptures. Let’s see how long this lasts.
Before Tuesday, President Trump had even given well-wishers plenty of reasons for disquiet: the assertion of “alternative facts” regarding inauguration crowd sizes; the blatant misrepresentations about the Electoral College victory; the abrupt firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn followed by dark intimations that he’d been undone by “the media;” the declaration of the press as “the enemy of the American people;” the incompetent rollout of a temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations; and much more. The secretary of defense had to travel the world reassuring NATO that Trump did not mean to undermine the alliance and assuring Iraq that despite repeated assertions from the president, the U.S. is not planning to steal Iraq’s oil.
So when President Trump delivered a speech to Congress free of the obsessions, insecurities and intemperate attacks that too often characterize his public persona, he deserved praise. The speech (at last) included some of the necessary civilities that we expect from American leaders. For the first time, in my memory at least, he wove references to freedom and our founding into his remarks. This accomplished two things: It gave the speech a reassuring tone, and it fit Trump into American traditions instead of him being in opposition to them. Most of all, it did permit President Trump to salute a fallen American, and that, too, is a welcome departure from some of his earlier disparagements of military heroes.
But let’s keep our heads. It was not a great speech. In fact, from a conservative perspective, while there were some good proposals, it was evidence of how much ground has been lost.
On the positive side of the ledger, Trump is rolling back regulations, which are like 50-pound weights on the ankles of American businesses.
But Republicans were once the party of fiscal responsibility — or they tried to be, at least.
The Trumpublicans are now overtaking the Democrats in the race to bankrupt the country. Trump promised a new $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill; a plan to destroy the Islamic State group; a “great, great wall” on the southern border; more help for veterans; more spending on women’s health; a replacement for Obamacare that will deliver better care at lower prices; and more. And where the Democrats promised to raise taxes on the rich to pay for their wish list, the Trumpublicans are planning to cut taxes on corporations and provide “massive tax relief” for the middle class.
More than fiscal responsibility, conservatism is founded upon modesty about what government can achieve. As the Republicans rose to cheer Trump’s assertion that “Every problem can be solved,” we saw that insight go out the window.