In his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump toned down his normally harsh stances and is now looking like he can get along with people better.
In terms of speaking his mind and not pulling any punches, U.S. President Donald Trump is no doubt in a class all by himself. Some may find his candor and his ferocity refreshing for a politician, while others find him offensive and annoying.
Trump isn’t a politician to sit on the fence, and instead of trying his best to steer away from controversy or at least limit his engagement in it, Trump not only isn’t afraid to throw gasoline on a fire, he has also shown eagerness to start fires of his own.
On Monday evening, President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address, an annual tradition where sitting presidents are given air time to address the nation, provide an update of how things are going from his perspective, and share what his goals and priorities are for the coming year.
With such a swashbuckling president delivering such a message, we would expect that he would take advantage of another opportunity to take out his sword and wave it around, as he is so prone to do in social media. At the very least, we’d expect him to bare the fists he’s been using to further some of his important goals, like the building of his wall on the border with Mexico.
We already have been through the longest government shutdown in history over this, and while that’s now over, it’s only over temporarily, and we may not have seen the end of this. Not only are the prospects of another government shutdown still on the table, Trump has told us that he is also strongly considering helping himself to the funds he needs for the wall by way of declaring the issue a national emergency.
Trump in off the cuff mode, in his tweets for instance, never disappoints in its boldness, but perhaps time to sit with advisors, as is the case with these speeches, allows for more reflection and a cooler head.
This is what this year’s State of the Union address looked like, where the issues were handled more gently and the usual attempt to avoid too much controversy that we normally see with other presidents but don’t really expect with this one was in evidence.
The Resolve is Still There, But Some Restraint is Being Shown
This does not mean that this was in any sense a gentle speech, and for instance Trump vowed not to give up the fight for his wall, but did not even mention the tactic of declaring a national emergency in the speech, a noteworthy absence.
We watched this speech not to discover anything new, but to gauge Trump’s level of restraint, with more restraint than usual being desirable to see. Trump did not disappoint here, and perhaps this time around he has matured more as a president than we had thought, or perhaps not so much when we realize that this is a man who does know what he is doing, more than it may appear.
If we look beneath Trump’s overflowing bombast, and look hard enough, he actually is a lot wilier than he appears to be, even to the point of standing out among presidents in this regard. All this posturing that he does, excessive or not, is all about positioning for the deal. This is how he conducted himself in business and this has fully carried over to his role as president.
His bark is therefore generally louder than his bite, and while he may bark a lot more than we’re used to hearing from presidents, this is all designed to serve his objectives. The wall issue is a good example of this, where Mexico was supposed to pay for this, which did please many of his supporters even though the idea was ridiculous.
He then threatened to slap Mexico with sanctions if they did not pay for the wall, and then the battle was taken to Congress, and in spite of how much of a long shot this is, near impossible perhaps, this hasn’t dissuaded him from still passionately pursuing it.
A more conciliatory message, or at least a less controversial one than expected, was what the markets were looking for here, and they ended up getting something that did at least seem to beat expectations.
Some of Trump’s Ideas Appeal to Both Sides
The wall fight is still on of course, as is Trump’s hope to lower the prices of prescription drugs, much to the chagrin of the pharmaceutical industry. Using trade deals to protect American jobs is also still at the forefront, which is another battle that wages on, and Trump is doing surprisingly well at this fight so far, even though markets hate trade restrictions and tariffs.
There is a possibility, and perhaps a good one, that Donald Trump’s harder line may yield better deals than would otherwise be possible, and we’ve seen some evidence of this already, including with the current negotiations with China.
The President also notably left out details about his infrastructure project, even though he called it “a necessity.” We’re left to guess about this a bit, and it is unlike Trump to leave something like this out, possibly indicating that the final amount, if this gets through, may involve some compromise on his part.
There was even an indication that Trump is ready to accept a more bi-partisan approach overall this year, although this was met with much skepticism by Democrats, who did not waste the opportunity to take more pot-shots at the president.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island remarked that “it is hard to listen to a man with such a demonstrated inability to tell the truth.” The wounds in this war do run that deep, and if Trump truly is willing to compromise here, he is still up against a lot of negative sentiment about him in the other party and it will take more to patch this up.
The goals of building infrastructure and lowering drug prices, as well as doing more to fight childhood cancer, are all things that please Democrats, so this is more than just talk here, there are concrete plans of Trump that are certainly of a bi-partisan nature.
The wall remains one of several points of contention though, and it’s hard to imagine President Trump without a lot of contention going on, as this is his stock in trade. When the dust settles on things though, we at least sometimes see hands being shaken in the end and Trump coming out looking good, at least in the eyes of those who have not let their dislike for the man cloud their vision.
We’re around the halfway mark of this presidential term and we are seeing at least some progress as it moves forward, and this was very much in evidence during Trump’s second State of the Union.
There really wasn’t much in this to move markets, no good news we didn’t know about but no bad news we didn’t either, along with what at least appeared to be a stronger attempt towards conciliation. We should therefore expect that things will continue on as usual, which is good news in itself.