Donald Trump's first address to Congress last night was the best speech he has given since he won the election last year. A low bar, you might say, and the new Commander-in-Chief will never match the rhetorical skill of his predecessor. Yet before the joint session of Congress a few hours ago, President Trump at last delivered the 'unity speech' that so many Americans have been pining for. It was all the more successful for having been so long waited for: a CNN snap poll (hardly a friendly source) found a huge majority of his audience responded 'very positively' to the speech.
The words were, in some ways, the words Republicans and others hoped he would deliver at his inauguration. Bipartisanship, overcoming divisions and working together to make America Great Again were the themes. 'My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women's health, and to promote clean air and clear water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure', Trump said.
'True love for our people requires us to find common ground, to advance the common good, and to cooperate on behalf of every American child who deserves a brighter future.'
It was corny as anything but then American politics always is. Trump is just that little bit cheesier than the rest. He made his usual commitment to make everybody 'very, very happy.' And his offer to America is clearly too good to be true. It is Valium politics. Trump promised a 'big, big cut' as well massive spending in infrastructure. He suggested every American could have access to a well-paid job. He said he was already bringing back employment and billions of dollars of investment to American shores. He promised gleaming roads, trains and airports - a one trillion dollar investment financed by public and private partnership and guided 'by two principles: 'buy American and hire American'. He also vowed to 'replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs, and at the same time, provide better healthcare.' He promised to overhaul education in order to 'break the cycle of poverty', to revitalise the military and to tackle crime and drugs and terrorism like no other. Oh, and he would dramatically cut the cost of government. It's an ambitious platform, to say the least, and one that could lead to huge disappointment in the next four years.
But this was a feel good session. Even the Democrats sitting sulkily couldn't spoil the vibe. Trump used rather clumsy hand gestures to show that both sides of the house must work together, which must have annoyed his political opponents no end. But it was effective in its way. Trump endeavoured to sound as politically correct as he could - so much so that the speech felt focus-grouped and curiously professional in parts. He began, for instance, by acknowledging Black History Month, by stressing his concern about anti-semitism, and by talking about his efforts to encourage female entrepreneurs and improve education for minorities.
There was a painful twenty minutes or so where he called out American hero victims - the disabled girl, the black father of a murdered son, the students who had overcome adversity - for Congress to clap them. That is standard fare at such speeches - Democrats do it a lot - but the long, long ovation for the grieving wife of William 'Ryan' Owens, a Navy Seal who died in the first counterterrorism operation Trump had ordered, felt downright sordid.
But it worked. Trump's talk of Americans all having the 'same blood', of restarting 'the engine of the American economy', of fulfilling 'impossible dreams' may sound silly and/or disturbing to British or European ears. But we are more sensitive to demagoguery, less patriotic and more cynical than Americans. Trump's appeals to the indefatigably of the American spirit will excite a nation that is - as Trump's election and the election Barack Obama showed - hungry for dramatic change. America is always a dream, and a president's job is to describe that dream in a way that inspires voters. In 2008, it was Obama's post-racial vision. Today, it is Trump's tubthumping nationalism. And if Trump is going to Make America Great Again - don't scoff - his first Congress speech may go down as the moment when he first rallied his country behind him.