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Ilya Kravchenko

PhD in political science, RIAC expert

Column: Politics of the United States

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a controversial US President. He does not like mass media but at the same time he conducts long and spontaneous press conferences. At first he speaks about China's containment and a little later he approves the “One-China” policy. At every opportunity he resorts to histrionics, which is one of the key elements of the public political persona of America today. But like any notable politician (whom he clearly considers himself) Trump has to designate the starting point of his future political strategy. And if his inaugural speech was a kind of prologue, the speech before Congress became the living picture of the beginning of the story that will go down in history as “America under the Donald Trump Presidency.”

 

One can, of course, wonder why should so much attention be paid to some speech before the main legislative body of the country? After all, Trump has already managed to do a lot of things. There has been a scandalous attempt to implement an immigration decree and beginning the construction of the wall  along the border with Mexico, and the decision to abolish the notorious Obamacare health reform. However, for the leader of a country like the United States, which now is virtually the strongest state on the planet, it is very important to maintain this status not only by introducing internal reforms, but also by implementing a progressive foreign policy. Given that he is a new President of the United States, he has to justify his foreign policy strategy – at least until a National Security Strategy appears (a fundamental document for US foreign policy, which, according to the law, the President must submit to Congress every year).

 

 

REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo

 

The ideal platform for such policy statements became Congress, which Trump addressed with his speech on February 28 of this year. An important component of any public statement, besides the speaker’s charisma and eloquence, is the audience present at the event. The more diverse the reactions during the speaker’s speech are, the more powerful the subsequent appeal and appraisal of the entire speech will be. And this is particularly important in terms of garnering maximum publicity for the office of President of the United States. This concept was absolutized on Tuesday night in the Capitol by Trump and his audience. A number of representatives of the Democratic Party (female) were dressed in all white, harkening back to the suffragette movement of the early XX century, in protest to Trump’s sexist statements. The same Democrats refused to rise and and applaud the key statements of the US President. Republicans, on the contrary, expressed their full sympathy to everything that Trump said. This is particularly interesting given the fact that the current head of the White House and members of the Republican Party in Congress have a number of claims against each other. But this evening they were united in a patriotic rush like never before.

 

If you do not take into account the fact that Trump, as always, fibbed with the facts a little in his speech (51, according to Trump’s unloved outlet The New York Times), on the whole it was built rather elaborately. And while critics accuse him to the utmost of the fact that the text of his speech corresponds to a 7th grade reading level (in contrast to Obama, who corresponded to a 9th grade level), supporters see this only as a positive aspect. For the sake of fairness, Trump, having simplified his speech as much as possible, once again demonstrated to whom it was intended – to his supporters among ordinary American citizens – in other words, to the future electorate in the 2020 Presidential elections. In the end, according to the information of The American Presidency Project, his speech was second longest in duration, and eighth in number of words. Holding first place in this rating was Bill Clinton, both in duration and in wordage. That is, Trump was talking as slow as possible, once again focusing the audience on the key points of his speech. Indeed, according to several surveys conducted immediately after the speech, the approval rating of Trump's speech among the audience was very large, about 76%. This is to say, Trump hit the nail on the head, or rather went straight to the very heart.

 

 

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 

Trump would not be Trump if he did not invite to his first speech the people who, according to the 45th US President, symbolized both key problems of contemporary American society and the state and the stability of the pillars of American democracy. For good reason, while talking about immigration reform, Trump turned to the relatives of victims who died at the hands of illegal migrants that were present in the hall. Talking about healthcare problems, the President referred to Megan Crowley, who suffers a rare disease, and was among the invitees, as if she embodied both the firmness of the American spirit and the problem of affordability of effective health care for ordinary Americans, particularly for children. Her father was ready to do anything, even founding a drug company, necessary to save the life of his sick daughter. With this Trump once again pointed out that he intends to reform the US healthcare system and that the congressmen are obliged to assist him in this. But the greatest “master stroke” of the head of the White House was the widow of the marine serviceman killed during a recent US special-forces raid in Yemen. Emphasizing the greatness of the American armed forces, Trump addressed the wife of a fallen soldier with the words: “Ryan's (the deceased marine) legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.” Then all those present honored the fallen American soldier, standing and giving applause to his wife for two minutes. Trump took advantage of the situation and added: “And Ryan is looking down, right now – you know that (addressing the marine's wife) – and he is very happy because I think he just broke a record.” Trump is referring here to the Congressional applause record during the address of US Presidents before joint sessions of Congress. And in this case, it really was beaten.

 

But this is not the main point. The Democrats, no matter how badly they abused and criticized Trump, were forced to rise and applaud. And was repeated each time Trump addressed one of the invitees. As a result, they not only rose in applause for those people, but also for Trump. Is it possible to call this a victory? Reasonably, yes. After all the current President adores publicity, and will seize each moment to, in his own manner, humiliate Democrats.

 

The 45th President of the United States did not avoid the topic of his vision for the future of US foreign policy. On this topic, he successfully killed two birds with one stone. Firstly saying that “It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies all across the globe,” and further adding that “We strongly support NATO”. In doing this, Trump addressed those who accused him of isolationism. He made it clear that the US will continue to be actively involved in international processes. But then, as though parrying against himself,  he said, “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.” A similar statement was addressed to those who feared the possibility of continuation of Washington's involvement in the process of globalization to the detriment of “the interests of ordinary Americans.”

 

 

Trump’s first address to Congress marked a symbiosis of a report on the work done over the last month, a political program in the spirit of the campaign, and an advancement of theses confirming the greatness of America. The main outcome is that the Democrats, both in Congress and in all other government institutions, will have to significantly review their political strategy. After all, Trump showed how strongly his public appearances can affect the attitude and support of the voters. And although there are no recent data, it seems likely that the rating of the head of the White House will rise after his speech. If Trump insistently continues to put his ideas and initiatives into practice, Democrats, and the Republicans in particular, will have to decide once and for all whether they want to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the United States after 9 years of Trump’s America, or if they need to fundamentally change their approach to the internal political struggle and really address the key issues pragmatically and in the best tradition of a developed democratic state. Be that as it may, but Trump has conquered the political summit known as the Congress of the United States. Whether he will manage to hold and consolidate his conquest or not, it will depend on his actions as the 45th President of the United States of America.

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