President Trump, long-chided for failing to address a surge in hate crimes, began his first address to Congress by invoking Black History Month, and condemning recent threats against Jewish institutions and the shooting of Indian men in Kansas City.
His uncharacteristically soft-toned speech, which included several religious references, at points emphasized the commonalities among religious groups and toward the end declared that “we are all made by the same God.”
And, heralding “a new chapter of American greatness,” the president acknowledged “our Muslim allies” fighting the militant group known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.
He called it “a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women, and children of all faiths and beliefs.”
But his other remarks Tuesday night (Feb. 28) would no doubt confirm for many critics that he still scapegoats Muslims and other minorities. He defended his Jan. 27 executive order, stayed by a federal appeals court, that temporarily bans nationals of seven Muslim-majority nations from visiting the U.S.
And he promised to fight terrorism, slowly enunciating “radical Islamic terrorism,” to make the point that he would use the phrase, despite even his own national security advisor’s stated belief that it helps extremists to paint the U.S. as anti-Muslim.
He also reiterated his intention to build “a great, great wall along our southern border.”
Trump invoked Scripture when he praised U.S. Navy Special Operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. The Navy Seal died in a controversial raid in Yemen that the president approved.
“Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. For as the Bible teaches us, there is no greater act of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” said Trump, invoking John 15:13.
And he championed school choice, saying families “should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”
But perhaps what most surprised his audience was the speech’s opening, a seeming attempt to bridge the divides among Americans that so many have accused Trump of widening.
“Tonight as we mark the conclusion of our 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,” he said to applause and cheers.
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