There was one moment in President Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night that people will remember for a very long time. It came when Trump honored the wife of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in a raid in Yemen last month.
Two important things happened there.
1. Trump rapidly grasped that this was a real moment — and he didn't step on it by trying to immediately return to his speech. Lots of politicians, obsessed with making sure they got the speech out in the allotted time, would have moved on too quickly — missing the resonance of the cascades of applause that washed over the rawly emotional Carryn Owens. Trump understands moments; he stepped away from the podium, looked to Owens and just clapped. For the better part of two minutes, the only thing you heard in the room was loud applause and the only thing you saw was Owens crying and looking heavenward. Very powerful stuff.
Critics will say — and have already said — that Trump was using a widow's emotion for political gain. But Owens willingly agreed to come to the speech knowing Trump would single her out. And, politicians of both parties regularly use these tragic moments to make broader points about our country and its policies. That's politics. To suggest that Trump somehow broke with political norms here is to turn a blind eye to virtually every speech like this given by any recent president of either party.
2. Trump showed some grace. There has never been any question that Donald Trump is happiest when people are talking about, looking at and generally obsessed with Donald Trump. He's never shown much grace in the public eye, often exhibiting a sort of ham-handedness in situations where some delicacy is required. But not Tuesday night. Trump, dare I say, gracefully handed the spotlight to Owens — even taking a few steps back to let her have that moment. For a candidate, a man and a president who has shown a stunning inability to ever make it about anyone other than him, it was a very deft move.
Now, predicting that what Trump did on Tuesday night will be indicative of what he will do today or tomorrow or next week is a fool's errand. If the NFL is a week-to-week league, then Trump is a day-to-day president. Yes, in that moment with Carryn Owens, he showed the best of what he can be. But, earlier in the day when he seemed to place the blame for Ryan Owens's death at the feet of his generals, he showed a far less appealing side.
There is no “other” Trump waiting to emerge. But what he proved last night — and for one night at least — is that he is capable of growth, capable of harnessing the powers of the presidency to work for him. Keeping it up, of course, is the hard part.