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Who was that man who just delivered a speech to a joint session of the US Congress?

President Donald Trump reacts after addressing a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
AP/Jim Lo Scalzo
A new man?
By Steve LeVine
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

After almost two years of acid attacks against all comers, challenges to most of the pillars of US and western power, and ominous appeals to base fears, US president Donald Trump tonight asked his fellow Americans and foreigners alike to forget all that and unite behind him as a fair and just leader.

The speech, which at turns twinned soaring phrases and typecasting of illegal immigrants as criminals and murderers, seemed to instantly win the approval of his supporters. He delivered it in a much different fashion than the decidedly threatening tone that defined his inauguration address on Jan. 20.

But a single address seems unlikely to win over millions of others who have been on the receiving end of Trump’s vitriol, or have simply been offended by his casual belittling and caustic broadsides against his many targets.

Much of the address was Trump’s standard stump speech, only delivered at an even timbre, absent his usual hectoring tone. As a result, the touches of liberal rhetoric that he had eschewed until now—appealing to political unity, condemning anti-Semitic attacks, suggesting a readiness to compromise—sounded downright unTrumpian.

“This is our vision. This is our mission. But we can only get there together,” Trump said near the end of his speech. “We are one people, with one destiny. We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same flag. And we are all made by the same God.”

This olive branch was extended to allies he previously suggested he might forsake. In perhaps his least equivocal embrace of NATO in memory, Trump called the main western military alliance one that was “forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism.”

He promised an America that “is once again ready to lead.” But he also took a swipe at the historical role of American leadership of the free world, which US presidents since Theodore Roosevelt have embraced. “My job is not to represent the world,” Trump said. “My job is to represent the United States of America.”

We will find out soon enough how enduring Trump’s newfound civility is. But if the last two years are a teacher, look for the bombastic tweets to resume before sunrise.

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