Expectations can shape perceptions in unhelpful ways. I remember ahead of the first presidential debate last fall, the consensus throughout much of the political world was that Donald Trump practically couldn't lose: all he had to do was show up, remain clothed, repeat banal and scripted talking points, avoid incidents of physical violence, and wait for pundits to say he "exceeded expectations" and appeared "more presidential than usual."
As it turned out, the Republican failed to clear this low bar, and he ended up looking ridiculous at the debate anyway, but all of this came to mind again last night ahead of Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress. Given the president's propensity for bizarre behavior and offensive antics, the expectations couldn't have been much lower.
And with that in mind, Trump managed to stick to the bland script put in front of him and resist his most self-destructive impulses. By the time the dust settled, this alone was enough to dazzle much of the political world, which has come to expect -- and often receive -- worse than it expected.
But if we evaluate Trump as a president, instead of comparing him to himself, his national address offered more of a sugar high than political sustenance.
The root of Trump's troubles continues to be his disconnect with reality. As an electoral matter, he boasted about the "earthquake" that elevated him to the White House, failing to appreciate the fact that he received nearly 3 million fewer votes than his opponent, and he entered the chamber last night as the least popular new president since the dawn of American polling.
As a matter of accuracy, Trump lied
, about matters large and small
. As a rhetorical matter, it was hard not to laugh at assertions such as, "The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us." This from the man who obsesses over crowd sizes and "Saturday Night Live" skits that hurt his feelings.
And as a substantive matter, the Republican president seemed confused about what last night's address was even supposed to accomplish. read more