President Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress was well executed and widely reported as such by networks and journalists who have been both his most vocal critics and the targets of his hostility. But while that interpretation, which was accompanied by terms like “presidential,” was oft repeated, it also feels incomplete.
Tasked with analyzing the President’s speech, many pundits either failed to ask real questions about the contents of his sparkling remarks or they simply gave too much credit to the presentation (which, as Wednesday night’s Daily Show reminded us all, was the kind of act that Trump bragged about being able to pull off on the campaign trail). This happened to such an extent that even people within the White House were reportedly surprised by the praise.
By the way, this isn’t the start of a drawn out declaration that it’s the media’s job to be hypercritical of President Trump at all turns. It’s just a collection of words laid down in service to the idea that context and facts matter, especially in the afterglow of a high-profile address to Congress, Americans, and the rest of the world. Especially in those immediate moments when people are still trying to process what they just witnessed.
We need to be reminded that we should rely on more than our emotions when assessing the gut-wrenching moment when President Trump expressed his condolences to Carryn Owens, whose husband, U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William (Ryan) Owens, died in a controversial raid in Yemen on January 29.
CNN pundit Van Jones said that, in that moment, Donald Trump became president and a “unifying” force. And President Trump’s actions were impactful and respectful. Of course, Carryn Ryan deserves gratitude and apologies for the sacrifice that she and her family have and will continue to endure. She deserves that applause from our leaders, but as her father-in-law said over the weekend, she (and the rest of the family) are also owed an investigation into what really happened.
The Owens family deserves accountability and we deserve a reminder that President Trump said that his generals were to blame in an interview on Tuesday morning. We also deserve a reminder that while the president was touting the mission as one that yielded results in his speech, there have been reports that say the opposite and indications that the mission was a complete failure that led to civilian casualties. We need to hear those charges so we can decide whether what we witnessed on Tuesday night was presidential grace or exploitative political theater.
The same thing goes for President Trump’s calls for unity and bi-partisanship in his address. Despite his frequent assurances that he didn’t divide the country, it would be hard for anyone to deny that he has done little to heal it. Maybe last night was a move in the right direction. But the rancorous tweets and the sore winner shtick on Twitter and in public remarks by him and his surrogates need to be presented as factual evidence of what he has done when judging the viability of what he says he wants to do.