“He became president of the United States in that moment. Period.”
Van Jones is no fan of President Trump. The liberal activist has been quick to criticize the policies, proposals and tone of Trump going back to the early days of his campaign. But in a moment of unexpected analysis and praise, Jones said Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress, effectively his first State of the Union address, could be one that propels him to new levels of popularity.
“He became president of the United States in that moment,” Jones said. “Period.”
The moment Jones was singling out was Trump’s exchange with Carryn Owens, the widow of Senior Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens.
“There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics. Period,” Jones said.
The exchange between Trump and Owens drew a standing ovation, which was not surprising. To not stand and acknowledge the widow of a fallen soldier would have been more shocking. But the visceral reaction of Owens, who was visibly shaken and crying, seemed to capture the hearts of everyone in attendance, including the president himself.
What followed was a short impromptu exchange in which Trump looked up into the congressional rafters at Owens and riffed that the long, steady and thunderous ovation from members of Congress, “may have broke a record.”
“For people hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment,” Jones said. “For people hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight.”
“Because that thing you just saw him do, if he finds a way to do it over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.”
Other members of the mainstream media praised the moment as well, including The Washington Post, which called it “surprisingly presidential,” and NBC News:
But there was no shortage of criticism for Trump as well, including many who felt the exchange was manipulative and took advantage of a grieving spouse’s vulnerability for political gain:
Comedian Bill Maher said that while it was the first “reasonable” moment for Trump, he’s worried it will “fool” those who don’t follow politics more closely into believing Trump might be more moderate. And filmmaker Michael Moore added in an interview with MSNBC that “what we are witnessing here is a new chapter of George Orwell’s 1984.” Those on Twitter reacted even more harshly:
Jones followed his glowing remarks by noting he’ll continue to disagree with Trump on most issues and noted how difficult it is to predict how Trump will behave on any given day. But for one of the most outspoken progressive voices in media today to offer such high praise was a rare and stunning moment.