Thursday, May 24 , 2018, 3:08 pm | Overcast 61º


Jamie Stiehm: Donald Trump Tries to Act Presidential for Once

I saw President Donald Trump’s first rodeo in the Capitol, 40 days and nights since he took over the country. And I lived to tell you a thing or two.

The fancy joint session address to Congress is not a place you can lead chants like, “Lock her up.” You can’t brag too much. Best to avoid the word “carnage” if possible. If you’re the American president, please act like one. For the first time in a long life, Trump tried to do that. Fake gravitas does not become him, but his slick performance fooled half the people.

From the get-go, Trump could barely bring himself to look at the women in white. But they gazed at him in a way that’s never happened before in that august chamber. What a show of spirit. Clad in striking white clothes, the House Democratic women formed a silent protest at the joint session with the Senate, dozens filling rows and rows on their side of the aisle.

“We decided to wear what women wore when they went out for the (suffrage) vote,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told me.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sitting with her arms folded in elegant disdain, sent a picture-perfect signal of resistance to Trump’s hammering her baby, Obamacare.

Yes, these sophisticated subversives come from cosmopolitan cities, Pelosi from San Francisco and Maloney from Manhattan. Also note the Senate Democratic women did not join the House resisterhood.

The ornate chamber was an away game from the White House bunker where Trump spends time with the two faces of Stephen — old Bannon, young Miller. They are co-authors of Trump’s dour, dark vision, who buttressed his call for a wall on our “southern border” and “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” That was his most brazen speech statement, as we are not officially at war with any nation.

Nancy Drew could do better than any commander in chief in our needless, heedless 21st-century wars, which President George W. Bush started.

Tragically, Trump’s military buildup would come at the cost of decimating State Department diplomacy. Obsequious oilman, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, seemed fine with that.

Trump failed to reach out to the majority of voters who voted for Hillary Clinton, a pro at a rodeo. Rather, he is changing the nation in his mirror image: armed and ready for a fight.

Trump fell short as he visibly strained to hit high notes for the first time ever. The speech, hastily cobbled together, was no masterpiece (“the chorus became an earthquake”) but it was a rare date with a teleprompter. Usually he wings it.

Yet the facts and figures, ma’am, did not show up for Trump’s big money shot before Congress, the Cabinet, the military brass, five U.S. Supreme Court justices (the missing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was working out, we joked) and guests like benefactor Newt Gingrich beaming down from the balcony. The diplomatic corps wasn’t there — I wonder why.

The dramatis personae included red-faced Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and maverick Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., with his sidekick, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Trump should watch these two for a stab in the back. McCain, 80, just won re-election and has little to lose.

Trump painted a pessimistic picture of a Hobbesian jungle here at home, claiming violent crime was going up when it’s actually way down. His jobless numbers were off. Up in the free press gallery, we waited for it, but “enemy” took the night off.

Trump defied the only Cabinet member he seemed to respect, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, by using the loaded term, “radical Islamic terrorism.” Mattis, a retired Marine general, looks the part.

The assembled Cabinet looked like they were having their first meeting — literally.

The New York Times photographer was busy getting every surreal shot, such as the women in white. Trump addressed the Republican throng, breaking the custom of speaking to both sides.

If body language could talk. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a Brooklyn character, slumped and scowled. Was it my imagination that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., looked tepid?

At Trump’s first rodeo, he was more bronco than cowboy.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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