PRESIDENT TRUMP opened his first speech to a joint session of Congress in a conciliatory tone, declaring that he had come to “deliver a message of unity and strength” and proclaiming “a new surge of optimism” and “the renewal of the American spirit.” But the sunny tone and a laudable condemnation of recent attacks on minorities soon gave way to the same dark and false vision of the country featured in the president’s grim inaugural address — one in which borders are open, drugs are pouring in, illegal immigrants prey on law-abiding Americans and globalization has impoverished vast swaths of the nation. When it came to specific policy proposals, Mr. Trump similarly offered a few encouraging signs — but many more reasons for skepticism.
In describing his bleak vision of a ruined United States exploited by foreigners, Mr. Trump wrote a series of checks he almost certainly cannot cash. He promised that “dying industries will come roaring back to life,” that “crumbling infrastructure will be replaced” and “our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately stop.”
Encouragingly, Mr. Trump told news anchors before his address that he is open to an immigration reform that includes a pathway to legal status for undocumented people. Yet the president only obliquely referenced this head-turning position in his speech. Similarly, he called for new policy on child-care accessibility and family leave, as well as expanding drug “treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.” Yet repealing the Affordable Care Act, as he proposed, would likely make life much harder for those who need new family benefits and addiction treatment.
The president called to “restart the engine of the American economy,” in part by making it “much, much harder for companies to leave,” which implies ruinous protectionism or other government misdirection of investment. Mr. Trump decried foreign duties on American goods after bragging that he tore up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement that would have lowered those very duties.
Mr. Trump called for a $1 trillion “program of national rebuilding,” “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history” and “massive tax relief for the middle class,” all issues on which he could work with Democrats. But he will have to find ways to finance these priorities that do not involve hollowing out the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and other essential government services.
In foreign policy, Mr. Trump mixed praise of the NATO alliance with bursts of isolationist and xenophobic rhetoric, claiming the United States had “defended the borders of other nations” but not its own. He made no mention of relations with Russia or China and offered no substantive indication of what his strategy would be for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The ugliest moment in the 60-minute address came when Mr. Trump announced the formation of an office on “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement,” and then introduced families of people allegedly murdered by illegal immigrants. It was an appeal to raw prejudice and fear that will do nothing to promote the national unity he claims to be seeking.