President Trump's address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night surprised me. He seemed rational, even thoughtful. A few times during the speech, he reached out to Democrats and others with promises to protect clean air and water, to provide paid family leave, and to allow at least some of the 11 million illegal immigrants to remain in the United States. He even channeled John F. Kennedy with his reference to a torch of liberty handed down from generation to generation. Kennedy in 1961 had said, "the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, ..."
What he didn't do is even more important. He didn't lead his supporters in the chamber to shout "Lock her up" or "Build the wall." He didn't insult and call names the members of the press covering his address. From my observations of Trump's administration so far, none of these repulsive actions would have surprised me. In the past year, he has dismissed or insulted members of the military and their families. He called the press "enemies of the people." Tuesday, he led an extended applause for the widow of an American sailor killed in a raid. The lingering focus on her and her grief must have been agonizing for this widow of only a month, tears streaming down her face, which was contorted by grief.
Trump demonstrated that he could stick to a script, that he could use a teleprompter without wandering off message or striking out at perceived enemies or distorting some perceived slight. This was Trump's best, most presidential speech. It will help him with independents and Democrats without hurting his standing with his loyal base.
The question for the next few weeks will be whether the president has turned over a new leaf. If he has, a Trump presidency might not be nearly as bad as so many detractors (as well as mainstream Republicans) have feared. If not, if Trump reverts to his campaign mode, it will be a long four years.