Of all the ways President Trump could have begun his address to the joint session of Congress on Tuesday, few could have expected the opening he chose: Trump addressed Black History Month and the recent anti-Semitic attacks in the first lines of his speech. Like most things the president says, it wasn't just unexpected — it was also controversial.
With the first moments of his prime-time address, Trump acknowledged the end of Black History Month. He also condemned the recent attacks on members of the Jewish faith, including last week's shooting in Kansas City of two Indian men, one of whom was killed.
...Tonight, as we were — as we mark the celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation's path toward civil rights and the work that still remains to be done.
Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.
Each American generation passes the torch of truth, liberty, and justice — in an unbroken chain all the way down to the present. That torch is now in our hands, and we will use it to light up the world.
The civil and religious rights talk was brief, but noticeable, as he concluded, "I'm here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength."
The president's message was unexpected because he had been relatively silent on both civil rights and the recent anti-Semitic events — to the point that many affected by both issues were loudly calling him out for this lack of response. Trump may have hoped to quell those criticisms by placing his message of unity at the top of Tuesday's speech. However, if that was his goal, he may not have succeeded. Some critics saw Trump's statements about Black History Month and the recent anti-Semitic attacks as an inadequate or insincere response to the struggles they face.
As a whole, Trump's address to Congress on Tuesday was meant to lay out his agenda for the administration. Most of the topics he focused on were more expected than his opening lines: He discussed the border wall he plans to build and he called on Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
"Obamacare is collapsing," Trump said. Meanwhile, Republicans in the audience applauded. Democrats loudly booed and gave the president a collective thumbs down.
Ultimately, Trump may have hoped to earn some brownie points with his critics by acknowledging Black History Month and the recent anti-Semitic attacks across the country. He may get some credit for finally bringing attention where it's due, but was his statement too little too late? At least some viewers of Tuesday night's joint session address seem to think so.
He flimsily acknowledged these important issues, but he did so in passing, giving the crux of his attention — and, therefore, the audience's attention — to issues that he has already talked about at length, including the healthcare legislation that remains to be repealed and the border wall that remains to be built.