Female Democrats, clad in white, turned the color into a symbol of impure politics at Trump’s first speech to Congress. They didn’t yell out “You lie,” but they gave him several ugly thumbs-down gestures. Little did they realize that they would be upstaged by a real woman in metaphorical white, Carryn Owens, the widow of the recently fallen Navy Seal Ryan Owens.
That moment in the speech was a masterstroke, turning a statesmanlike speech into a stunning one. All the phoniness and pettiness of partisan politics fell away as Trump honored a weeping war widow. Suddenly, a Congress so wrapped up in nonsense was reminded of something real and noble. It was riveting TV for all the right reasons.
“Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero battling against terrorism and securing our nation,” the president said, as his widow looked heavenward. “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies. Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity.”
It is no wonder the Democrats scuttled out of Congress so rapidly after the speech. How were they going to make their hysterically silly partisan points after a moment like that?
They had hoped their sulking presence at the speech would make an impression on the public. And it did — a bad one. They looked like unserious asses, too immature and pathologically partisan to clap for the president as he entered the chamber. Even as Trump delivered the most blamelessly nonpartisan lines, many of them furtively glanced at fellow Dems to see if they should clap. What is the sound of one side clapping at the most basic national pieties? Americans found out last night.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, appropriately enough, was seen seated with the Democrats. The Sheila Jackson Lees, normally so eager to hog the aisle seats, avoided them like the plague. Did a single Dem shake Trump’s hand as he entered the chamber? It didn’t look like it.
They did gingerly clap as Trump talked about what unites all Americans, but they had to cast more furtive glances at each other after Trump said we are all “made by the same God.” In their glumness and determination to remain mute in the face of Trump’s nods to simple nationalism, the Democrats looked less like Americans than a group of cranky foreign tourists visiting the Capitol.
The speech contained almost no polemics, marked largely by an unimpeachable sobriety, even a wonkiness rarely seen in previous Trump speeches. Trump’s trademark humor appeared a few times — when he noted that he didn’t want to ride the Harley-Davidson motorcycles he was extolling — but for the most part he was all business and patriotism. He mixed in a few references one doesn’t normally hear in these addresses. There was a mention of radical Islamic terrorism and another to homeschooling. He talked about vouchers, defended his travel ban, and developed the economic and security arguments for enforcing immigration laws.
It is a measure of how far to the left the Democrats have traveled that this program is treated as “frighteningly right-wing.” In reality, it is all pretty modest and obvious — a return to the rudimentary nationalism and common sense that both parties once embraced before the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s took hold.
By treating everything that Trump says as apocalyptic, the Democrats remind Americans that their participation in politics is pathetically restricted to denying problems, not solving them. That leaves an enormous opening for a relentlessly practical Trump to fill. As the Democrats grandstand, growing more and more preoccupied with partisan trivialities, Trump only gets more serious.
Trump has previously said that the “era of empty talk is over” and he means it. Rhetoric is of less interest to him than results. But Tuesday’s speech did contain some striking lines and none stronger than the ones which followed his honoring of the widow of Ryan Owens: “For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. Ryan laid down his life for his friends, for his country and for our freedom. And we will never forget Ryan. To those allies who wonder what kind of a friend America will be, look no further than the heroes who wear our uniform.”
That’s what people will remember from this occasion — not Democrats in smudged white, but a fallen soldier in uniform and his widow to whom a nation gave thanks.