March 01, 2017
It's safe to say that whatever preconceived notions Americans had about President Trump's first major address to the country went flying out the Capitol windows last night. Instead, the man who stood before both chambers of Congress did what he's done throughout his entire political career: defied expectations. And no one was more surprised than the mainstream media. They, like so many Democrats, watched with astonishment as the new leader of the free world delivered what they freely admitted was a unifying and inspiring speech. Longtime critics gawked as a perfectly composed Trump reached out to the forgotten pockets of the country, reassuring them, poignantly, that "We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same flag. And we are all made by the same God."
As I watched from the gallery of the House chamber, I was struck by the stark difference between President Trump and his predecessor. He left no doubt that his confidence in the American people is far greater than his confidence in Washington. Afterward, pundits of all stripes openly praised the president, including longtime detractors like the New York Times's Glenn Thrush. "For any other president this would be a boring, laundry list speech. For Trump - amazing, responsible, detailed, uniting, presidential!" Time magazine's Michael Scherer agreed, insisting, "This speech is the best sign yet that Donald Trump can learn how to use the power of his office."
Unanimously, they agreed that the most emotional moment of the night came when the president recognized fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, as his widow, weeping, looked on, raising her hands to heaven. "Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero," Trump said to a standing ovation, "battling against terrorism and securing our Nation." For military families, devastated by eight years of Obama's indifference, it was a powerful reminder that a new chapter has begun for our brave men and women in uniform -- a chapter marked by appreciation and respect. It was also, as a somber CNN commentator noted, "One of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics. Period. He became president of the United States in that moment."
Those positive feelings echoed across living rooms in America. Seven in 10 people who tuned in said they felt more optimistic about the country's direction. Even Democrats left the speech thinking that it was better to try working with the White House (46 percent) than battling it (44 percent). As CNN pointed out, "The percent favoring his plans for fighting terrorism, addressing crime, improving the economy, handling illegal immigration, and dealing with Obamacare all jumped.... Majorities overall were positive toward his plans for the military, trade, foreign policy, the budget deficit, and taxes."
At its core, though, the speech affirmed what most Americans have come to appreciate about the 45th president: his reputation -- not just of talking about his priorities, but acting on them. Regardless of what they may think about those priorities, no one can dispute that he's holding up his end of the bargain on major campaign promises -- including taking his first steps to reverse the devastating trend of the government punishing people who live according to their deeply-held beliefs. Unlike his predecessor, President Trump understands that if Americans don't have the freedom to live according to their faith -- whether it's in the home, in the workplace, or in school -- then we really can't be free. Personally, I'm confident that President Trump will continue to defend those fundamental freedoms, which is why I do expect him to issue an executive order protecting religious liberty government-wide.
And that should include the people fighting for that liberty -- our military. U.S. troops have faced not only a serious depletion of resources, but of morale. That's no surprise to anyone who watched the previous administration treat the military as a laboratory of liberal social experimentation. Obama's agenda led to chaplains being disciplined for their faith, and religious speech being censored. It's time to reinforce our First Freedoms with policies that reflect the law, which allows men and women to not only believe, but act on those beliefs.
After the spectacular failures of Obamacare, the demoralization of our military, the explosion of lawlessness, tolerance of corruption, and obsession with social engineering, Americans finally have the opportunity to rebuild the country they love. Last night, President Trump opened the door wider to solutions that put our country back on the right track. Let's hope that both parties show a willingness to walk through that door, together.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.