Trump's Congressional Address: America's Working Relationship Is At Stake

The first month of Donald Trump's presidency can largely be summed up with one word: relationships. The American media, public, and government officials alike have all taken to various platforms to psychoanalyze, scrutinize, and assess the health of Donald Trump's various relationships - whether it's his feud with the press and the intelligence community, his potential ties to Russia, his factional family inside the West Wing, his real family outside of it, his sometimes diplomatic, sometimes awkward relationship with U.S. allies, or his complicated relationship with information. The bedrock beginnings of his most important relationship of them all, however, will happen tomorrow night at 9 P.M. when president Trump addresses his co-workers. 

To this point, members of Congress have taken a variety of non-committal and deflective stances toward the Trump administration, and for the most part, who could blame them? When Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell see Trump, they see a signature on a tax cut, or a repeal of the ACA, much like Sylvester the Cat looks at Tweety Bird and sees dinner. The president they'll watch Tuesday night, to them, is a means to an end. Anyone paying attention to Republican congressional leadership knows that they'd love to ignore Trump if they could, but he is figuratively the largest elephant in a room full of elephants. Why is this conversation so important? Because he won't be addressing fans, or a red meat crowd at CPAC, or a room full of wealthy donors, or his guests at Mar-a-Lago. He'll be looking square in the face of the people (Republicans and Democrats) he needs to help him "Make America Great Again." And for Congress, the relationship with the man at the podium and his agenda is one that will likely define a generation of American politics. This open monologue to Congress (an equal branch of government to the executive and judicial branches despite what Stephen Miller says) will set the working standard for the next four years. 

Will Congress be able to work with Trump, or will they have to waste valuable energy working around the distractions he creates?

Will they be able to coalesce around a singular legislative vision for the country?

Will the president implore them to get to work, so the power and volatility of the executive branch is diminished, not only for this administration but for the next?

Will Congress make that a priority for themselves if the president doesn't?

Will the calls for unity from Trump be a mere bone to toss out randomly in speeches and press conferences to maintain appearances, or will he use this address to find issues where Democratic ideas can be a valued and respected?

Will he set the agenda and goals for how his new "business" will run? Or will he continue to shut them out in favor of a less-experienced, less stable inner circle? 

Will he discuss gridlock and congressional disapproval, and lay out a plan to reverse both trends?

As midnight strikes on Wednesday morning, we may find all of these questions unanswered, and some likely unposed. But if there is one moment where Trump can erase some of the blunders and early unforced errors of his presidency it is tomorrow night. I hesitate to call whatever that speech might look like a pivot. We are far beyond the point of hoping for or expecting a pivot. A focus on working order, though, is still not only possible, but plausible. It won't take much effort from Trump to steer a ship veering dangerously away from a place resembling governance back on course. He fancies himself a business man, and there's no better time for him to get down to business. And he must remember, the country will be watching.

Aside from the hardest core Trump supporters, the public is tired of hearing about fake news and the media. The daily judgement of what is reported on a day-to-day basis by this administration doesn't do one damn thing to make an American life better. It doesn't add one job. It doesn't insure one sick person. It doesn't fix one structurally deficient bridge. It doesn't stop one terrorist. It doesn't solidify one foreign relationship. It doesn't fill one glass of lead filled water with clean water. It doesn't empower one small business owner to expand. It doesn't help one student get a better education. It doesn't help one graduate pay down their debt. It doesn't help one person practice their religion safely. It doesn't heal one broken bond between a community and its law enforcement. It doesn't stop one shooting death. It doesn't do one thing to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. It doesn't help support one service person abroad or here at home. It doesn't help establish free and fair trade. It doesn't help one family afford a home. 

Aside from the hardest core Trump supporters, the public is tired of hearing about the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, and the margin of victory. The public is tired of hearing how nobody believed in "the movement." All those issues I listed in the last paragraph? None of them get addressed by touting electoral margins of victory either.

Aside from the hardest core Trump supporters, the public is tired of hearing "believe me" and "trust me" because, so far, there isn't much from the administration to believe or trust. It has been wholly unable to synchronize a collective message or agenda. It has rushed multiple executive orders and conflated motion with the idea of progress. It has made promise after lofty promise, with not so much as a whisper of Congressional consensus on policy that can be put forward. And if the Republican town halls are any indication of just how tired that public is of getting rhetoric instead of answers in regard to those speedy promises - a war of attrition is already underway.

My guess is also, Congress is tired of hearing media talk, election talk, and "believe me" too. Republicans are in "bigger fish to fry" mode, and Democrats are trying to unify around the resistance movement (the effectiveness and direction of that movement TBD). Everyone in Congress has more important conversations to have, more important work to do, and more important obligations to the American people. The ones relishing and engaging in Trump's pettier posturing will probably regret it come 2018.  

At Pantsuit Politics we love a productive conversation, and no matter which side of the political fence you stand on, more stagnation is something we should all vehemently reject. If you've ever been on a conference call that ends with a concrete plan, you know that invigorated feeling you get when you sit back at your desk. Your notebook is full. Your to-do list is in front of you. Your cube lighting looks a little less fluorescent. The clock feels a little less taunting. Even if all the meetings before that one were a disaster, all it takes is one great one to change perceptions, change the culture, get things moving forward. Even Trump's biggest opponents want to see someone focused more on his work and his country work than himself. They want to see the bare minimum of selfless effort the highest office of public servitude requires. They want to see him realize the purpose of the presidency. 

Purpose - real purpose - is a powerful feelingIf Trump can find it between now and his first address to Congress, dignified leadership might not be a lost cause after all.