Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book, “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success,” and co-author with Peter Eisner of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s. Read more opinion articles on CNN. This is an updated version of a column originally published in October 2017.
Donald Trump used his first televised Oval Office address to look the American people in the eye and do what he had done more than 7,000 times in less than two years: lie, distort and deflect. It was the performance we all should have expected based on his false premise that a security emergency exists on the border with Mexico.
Trump’s specific distortions included the false claim that Democrats “will not fund border security” and that a border wall, of the sort he promised to build, “will quickly pay for itself.” Presumably these statements were made to divert attention from the fact that Democrats want to debate the approach to security, not the need for it. The idea that the wall will pay for itself is a fantasy meant to replace his oft stated campaign promise that Mexico would finance the construction.
He also blamed Democrats for a government shutdown he agreed he would “own” during a televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.
The worst of Trump’s all-too-predictable talk involved his description of undocumented immigrants committing violent crimes, which he offered to gin up fear about the nonexistent crisis. He failed to mention the two asylum-seeking children who died in his administration’s custody last month, and then Trump had the nerve to speak of the nation’s heart and soul.
As always, it seems the big takeaway from this Trump speech is the one that he has offered us many times before: As President, he has too little respect for the office he holds, the people he serves, and the tradition of Oval Office broadcasts.
President Ronald Reagan’s first address of this sort considered a dire economic picture. “We have to face the truth,” he said, “and then go to work to turn things around.” George H.W. Bush proposed a sweeping program to deal with drug abuse, which Americans had ranked above other issues in a poll at the time.
George W. Bush spoke about one of the great moral questions of the day as he committed federal funds to stem cell research under certain conditions.
Besides the topics, which represented concerns outside partisan politics, the first Oval Office addresses by our most recent Republican presidents can be distinguished from Trump’s talk by the manner of the leaders who gave then. These three presidents were serious in their demeanor and measured in tone. Nothing in what they said even hinted at hype or deception, because none was present. They referenced agreed-upon facts with true sincerity. And unlike Trump, Reagan and the Bushes did not express themselves as partisans but as leaders for all Americans.
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The first Oval Office broadcast was made by Herbert Hoover in 1929. His subject was the very serious matter of arms reduction and peace. Subsequent broadcasts by presidents seated behind the chief executive’s desk dealt with D-Day, the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima, the Cuban missile crisis and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. No president had abused his power to summon the nation’s attention in this way, until now. Nine minutes in length, Donald Trump’s debut Oval Office broadcast reminded the public that he is a President like no other and that we deserve better.