x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Trump's surprisingly conciliatory State of the Union address has led to talk of him running for a possible second term

There is a growing, if grudging, acceptance that the US president cannot be dismissed as a tweet-obsessed lunatic

US president Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address in Washington / Reuters
US president Donald Trump delivers his first State of the Union address in Washington / Reuters

For all the opprobrium that has been hurled at Donald Trump during his first year in the White House, the realisation is finally beginning to dawn on many of his critics that he is not doing such a bad job after all.

The general perception that the president is little more than a spoilt narcissist who throws his toys out of the pram every time he fails to get his way is best summed up in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, the author’s deeply antagonistic account of life at the Trump White House.

And yet, after Mr Trump’s altogether more measured performance in his first State of the Union address this week, there is a growing, if grudging, acceptance that Mr Trump is not the deranged, tweet-obsessed lunatic that he has been portrayed as in large parts of the liberal media.

The annual State of the Union address is the moment when an American president can appeal to the entire nation, urging them to set aside their differences and come together for the common good.

After all the bitterness and deep political divisions that have surfaced in the US since Mr Trump came to office last year, there has rarely been a greater need for a president to strike a conciliatory tone.

And this was certainly the note Mr Trump sought to strike during his televised address to Congress, where he stressed the many opportunities every American would be able to enjoy as a result of his “America First” policy.

In one of the speech’s key passages the president boasted: “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream. Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.”

Mr Trump’s version of so-called “new deal” economics did not enjoy universal applause. Democrats failed to join in the warm welcome the president received from his Republican supporters. But then they will have had one eye on the forthcoming mid-term elections later this year, when they are hoping to end the slender lead the Republicans currently enjoy in the Senate.

Yet, to judge by the positive response his speech received throughout most of the country, Mr Trump’s more conciliatory tone struck the right chord and showed that, when he chooses, he does have the ability to look and sound presidential.

This was certainly a very different figure to the one who has sparked an intense debate in the US about his sanity after the president took to Twitter to crow about his “very stable genius” and ran the risk of provoking a nuclear war by teasing North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un about the relative size of his nuclear button.

But this demonstrates the fundamental problem when trying to assess the Trump administration: do you pay attention to the provocative messages emanating from the president’s Twitter feed or examine instead the altogether more impressive economic data that suggests his presidency is not the complete disaster zone many imagined it would become?

The latest economic data certainly suggests the president is doing a decent job of running the country, with growth currently running at a healthy 3.2 per cent, with blue collar wage growth outstripping the rest of the economy – just as Mr Trump promised it would during the presidential election campaign.

Mr Trump’s performance, moreover, suggests that, far from being a bizarre deviation from the political norm, his presidency will not only last the course but will herald a fundamental change in America’s outlook, both at home and abroad.

Mr Trump’s successful management of the American economy has even led to talk in some Republican circles of him running for – and winning – a second term in office, a prospect that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago.

The growing realisation that the Trump presidency is not some passing phenomenon and is here to stay should cause world leaders to rethink their attitude to a man who clearly delights in proving his detractors wrong.

This is particularly true in some parts of the Middle East, where the president’s commitment to confronting America’s enemies is likely to have bold repercussions.

Mr Trump’s approach to foreign policy is simplistic in the extreme: be good to your friends and give your enemies hell.

In that context we can expect Mr Trump to take a hard line against groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which are ideologically opposed to western involvement in the Arab world.

Mr Trump’s uncompromising attitude could also be bad news for Iran which, despite numerous warnings from Washington, continues to meddle in the affairs of neighbouring Arab states.

In his State of the Union address Mr Trump made specific reference to the recent political unrest in Iran, where thousands of protesters have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the ayatollahs’ dictatorial rule.

The president offered his support to the protesters, who are calling on the Iranian government to undertake wholesale political and economic reform. Mr Trump also reiterated his dislike for the nuclear deal signed with Tehran by his predecessor Barack Obama and other major world powers.

And just as he is fulfilling his campaign promise to fix the American economy, so Mr Trump is redefining the way America confronts his enemies. “As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries,” he said. Watch this space.

Con Coughlin is the Daily Telegraph’s defence and foreign affairs editor