Last night, Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress. For the first time, Trump actually appeared both presidential and optimistic as he delivered an upbeat message that called for unity and bipartisan action. But was it just a facade? Can Trump possibly deliver on his ambitious promises of generous tax cuts, massive infrastructure investment and immigration reform? After all, just hours before his speech promised “clean air and clear water” for all Americans, he signed an executive order dismantling EPA protections for lakes and waterways in the U.S. There are already cracks in the facade and many unanswered questions.
The BBC’s 5 Live asked me to share my perspective as Britain woke in sleepy amazement to this presidential performance.
Listen to the BBC Podcast (starts at 21:36) or to the 4 minute clip below:
Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Colletta Smith: In the last few hours, the U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to Congress. He covered some familiar themes like job creation and infrastructure investment….The Silicon Valley journalist Alison van Diggelen is on the line this morning. Good morning Alison!
Alison van Diggelen: Good morning, great to join you.
Colletta Smith: Thank you for joining us again. You’ve been helping us with this whole story over the last year of Trump’s (campaign and) election. This would not normally make the headlines: a president outlining potential budget negotiations. Yet it has with Trump, because we were expecting a surprise. And perhaps the surprise is that there wasn’t really a surprise in the speech that he gave?
Alison van Diggelen: His performance tonight was a sharp contrast to the chaotic first 40 days of the Trump presidency. He was very presidential tonight. He stuck to his script and he had a much softer approach. He had a lot of “gifts” for everyone. He’s proposing what he calls “massive” tax relief for the middle class, cuts to corporate tax; $1 Trillion in infrastructure spending and a military spending increase of $54 Billion, which to put in perspective is the entire annual budget for UK military.
Colletta Smith: When it comes to adding up those sums…do we have any more details as to how he plans to finance those extra boosts?
Alison van Diggelen: That is the big question. It’ll be interesting to see how the markets respond. There are so many outstanding questions:
- How is he going to pay for these tax cuts and infrastructure spending?
- Can he get these measures through Congress?
- Will the Federal Reserve undermine his actions by increasing interest rates?
- Will he start a trade war with his tariff plans and threats to renegotiate multilateral trade agreements like NAFTA?
There are so many questions unanswered, so many details unanswered. There’s a big question mark over what the future holds.
Colletta Smith: At what point does the electorate, his supporters demand that detail?
Alison van Diggelen: The stock market is on a roll right now. The market is up 10% in the ” Trump rally” since the election. Who knows if that can continue? As we all know, the stock market can turn on a dime. It depends on optimism and if the market keeps that optimism. One analyst said, “The market likes to trade on hope,” and all these issues – tax cuts, deregulation, infrastructure spending – they’re all boosts to economic growth, but at some point if he’s not able to push ahead and make progress in Congress, there may be an adjustment of that optimism and people will say: these wonderful (economic stimulus) “carrots” are not going to happen, and then things could take a nose dive.
Colletta Smith: Alison van Diggelen, Silicon Valley journalist. Thanks as ever for joining us and giving us your analysis this morning.
“According to a CNN/ORC poll of about 500 speech watchers, 57% said they had had a very positive reaction to President Trump’s Congress address, with seven out of 10 saying they believed his policies would move the US in the right direction.
His popularity, however, has hit a historic low for modern presidents after a month in office – just 44% of Americans think he is doing a good job, according to RealClearPolitics.
Mr Trump’s young presidency has been overshadowed by missteps including a high-profile court defeat to his controversial travel ban and the firing of a top aide.” BBC News