Donald Trump, whom many still regard as an accidental and unqualified president, is increasingly revealing himself as a traditional conservative Republican, in the famous mold of Ronald Reagan, or even Calvin Coolidge. Given that Trump is ebullient, voluble, and a master of social media, the comparison to "silent Cal," a president of few words who served during the great economic expansion of the Roaring Twenties may seem inapt, but Coolidge and Reagan were both powerful advocates for the middle class.
They were also for reducing bureaucracy, lowering taxes, private property protection, the appointment of judges dedicated to the rule of law — as well as for a foreign policy based on national interests.
President Trump laid out these themes of his presidency during his speech on Friday to the world economic leaders at Davos, Switzerland. This means we can expect to see something similar in his State of the Union Speech this week. In Davos, the president began by stressing that his commitment was to that of what he defined as "the American Dream," "the dream of a great job, a safe home and a better life for their children."
It would be difficult to come up with a better and simpler focus, or one capturing his administration’s attention to stability, economic growth, and prosperity. The president proceeded to reel off statistics indicating the profound resurgence in the stock market, in wealth creation, and in the rise of business confidence during his adminstration's first year .
Trump happily declared, "America is open for business and we are competitive once again." This was intriguingly reminiscent of a slogan popular in Coolidge’s time, that the "business of America is business." The slogan characterized Reagan's era as well.
More importantly in an international setting, and again echoing his Republican predecessors, Trump stressed that while it was his job as president to "believe in America," and to "put America first just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also," he was, nevertheless, committed to the proposition that "America first does not mean America alone."
He clarified that American prosperity had ramifications internationally, and that a booming economy in the U.S. would, as well, create "countless jobs all around the globe."
For a man accused by his critics of belligerence and a lack of understanding of other nations, Mr. Trump could be seen to disarm his opposition by an appeal to the simplest of universal human needs. It was no wonder that even some parts of the media usually critical of this president had to acknowledge that he was received at Davos as if he were a rock star.
The president continued his Davos speech by directly tackling what has been perceived as a problem in international relations, his propensity to suggest the U.S. should walk away from particular international accords, or slap tariffs on products from other nations.
Branding himself as one actually committed to "free trade," the president still made clear that he wanted to "reform the international trading system so that it promotes broadly-shared prosperity and rewards" for those who "play by the rules."
He committed his administration to the eradication of "unfair economic practices including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning."
Again, this was an appealing statement of the need to follow the simplest and most basic principles of fairness and the rule of law, and a demonstration, really, that the president’s domestic and international policies were strikingly similar.
Finally, as he will undoubtedly do in his State of the Union address, President Trump reiterated that our nation’s commitment to economic reform, reduced regulation, increased production of energy, and return to the rule of law — each in stark contrast to that of his predecessor in the Oval Office — would be accompanied by "historic investments in the American military because we cannot have prosperity without security."
In an appeal to other nations, Donald Trump urged them to "invest in their own defenses and to meet their financial obligations," in order to “make the world safer from rogue regimes," such as North Korea and "jihadist terrorist organizations."
In particular, the president noted America’s recent success in frustrating ISIS and discrediting their "wicked ideology."
The president went on to thank the representatives of other nations assembled at Davos for aiding in the effort of "not just securing your own citizens but saving lives and restoring hope for millions and millions of people." He closed with a touching appeal for the recognition of "hard-working men and women" striving for a "better world for everyone," who deserved "love and gratitude." The president closed his speech with a benediction, "God bless you all."
With the exceptionally lucid, powerful, and well-received Davos speech President Donald J. Trump set a commendably high bar for this week’s State of the Union address.
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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