I must confess that I didn’t see this coming. There were so many times prior to this speech where I hoped he would raise his tone, but he would engage in another childish tweet-for-tat instead. There were many times when I ached for notes of grace and magnanimity toward opponents and, instead, heard the same level of personal invective that they dished out on him.
The ovation for Carryn Owens, the heroic wife of slain Navy Seal, Ryan Owens, is reputed to be the longest in the history of these speeches and it was full of emotion and tears. Left-wing commentator, Van Jones, effusively praised Trump, “He became president of the United States in that moment. Period.”
Fox News commentator, Chris Wallace, set the speech against the backdrop of history and called it one of the best that he’s heard in his lifetime. MSNBC commentator, Chris Matthews—a fervent critic of President Trump—said that Trump’s theme of economic nationalism is a winner with people on the right, center, and left.
I am sure that Matthews will remain a fervent critic of President Trump. It’s not like Trump massively moved public opinion on any political issue last night. Progressives will continue to disdain the president’s hard line against immigration and his push to deregulate the executive bureaucracy. Conservatives will continue to twitch every time he refers to “fair trade” and other buzzwords associated with economic protectionism.
The point of these speeches is not to pull a polarized society into lockstep viewpoints. Rather, it is an opportunity to draw diverse people with contrasting and converging viewpoints into a more fundamental American unity.
Honoring the widow of our slain service-member is a case in point. Last night, the Democrats came to fight with their array of sullen frowns and sulky silences. As The Wall Street Journal aptly noted, “The pantsuit caucus and their equally-grumpy male Democratic colleagues continued to sit, frown and offer tepid applause or none at all even for lines that would be objectionable to no one outside of ISIS.”
Yet when President Trump recognized Carryn Owens, the Democrats had no choice but to rise up with the Republicans in celebration of this valiant woman and her slain husband. There is something fundamentally American about recognizing and appreciating those who secure our freedoms with their suffering and sacrifice.
Last night, President Trump could have blown yet another opportunity to appear presidential. Instead, he defanged those who wish to portray him as something akin to Hitler. Thus far, such venomous attacks have been excused in light of the similar tone employed by President Trump. When contrasted with his tranquil tone last night, they seem grossly unfair and ill-advised.
This is why the Democratic effort to lambaste Trump rather than engage him was always a risky gamble. You could dive into the gutter with a person in order to sully them entirely, but if they suddenly rise above the fray, you are the only one left with mud on your hands. The passive aggressive protests of many Democrats last night would have perhaps been justified if the president had come to brawl. Instead, he was unifying and conciliatory and, by contrast, the Democrats looked petulant.
Kudos to progressives Van Jones and Chris Matthews, who see the writing on the wall. The current Democratic strategy is not working and President Trump is showing signs of growth. As Jones noted, if Trump’s performance from last night is continued, he will likely spend eight years in the presidency.
In other words, President Trump’s presidency not only began last night, but it may not conclude any time soon.
Stephen Roberts is an Army Reserve chaplain, writer and evangelist living near Milwaukee. He is a regular contributor to Political Storm.