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Parker: Can Trump sustain newfound aura of gravitas?


It was a good speech.

Calm down. I said good.

Despite talking for an hour and 20 minutes, the longest speech since Bill Clinton’s much-mocked 2000 stem-winder, Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address did exactly what it needed to do: nothing.

It wasn’t strident; it wasn’t provocative; it wasn’t alienating; it wasn’t retributive; it wasn’t divisive—except to Democrats who would have sneered in disgust even if he’d said, “I’m sorry for all the ridiculous, mean things I’ve said the past year.”

All disclaimers and critiques aside, there’s a rule known to all public speakers: People don’t remember what you say; they remember how you make them feel. Only journalists, pundits, politicians, professors and speechwriters will closely examine the content of the president’s speech. The rest of America, to the extent they watched the speech at all, will have gone to bed thinking, “Gosh, he was surprisingly good. Maybe there’s hope after all.”

Listening to post-mortems on television Wednesday morning, I was struck by the consensus that Trump sowed division in his address to the nation. I even heard words such as “horrifying” to describe certain aspects. I’m thinking: You don’t know the American people.

The crux of most of the criticism was that Trump gave a speech encouraging unity while doing the opposite. By this they meant he invoked several hot-button issues, such as the “take a knee” movement and the violence of the Salvadoran gang MS-13.

Both of these references among a smattering of others were strictly gratuitous and meant, presumably, to bestir the base. But when compared with the fire and brimstone of his inaugural address, these represent relatively minor flaws. Indeed, most Americans do prefer that people show respect for the national anthem by standing, and they are fearful of the potential for violent characters to cross the border without enhanced security.

To Democratic ears, of course, Trump was fear-mongering and race-baiting, which, while not unprecedented, seems nearly as gratuitous a reaction. This was underscored when Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III, during his State of the Union response, intoned: “Vamos a luchar por ustedes” (We’re going to fight for you).

Otherwise, it is only reasonable that the president cited laudable benchmarks—economic progress, surging markets (notwithstanding Tuesday’s brief plummet), and greater business confidence. Noteworthy are recent stories about people who, through one retirement plan or another, are feeling friskier these days. Fidelity recently reported that the average annual return for 401(k)s hit 15.7 percent by the third quarter of 2017.

None of these tidings erase errors of Trump’s first year in office or the negative effects of his often-mean-spirited rhetoric. Nor does it alter the realities of the ongoing Russia investigation, the likely-to-be released memo by the House Intelligence Committee or the administration’s general dysfunction. Nor am I inclined to redact the many critical columns I’ve written.

But it was a good speech.

A more complete and fairer appraisal would note that Trump also said plenty to engage the other side of the aisle, including a $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, also known as “Dreamers.” Naturally, one of the first things to pop up Wednesday morning when you Googled “SOTU and immigration” was that David Duke praised the president for his line, “Americans are dreamers, too.” Please. Who cares what David Duke thinks or says?

And by the way, Trump didn’t begin his day Wednesday by tweeting. Wait. Let me rephrase that: THE PRESIDENT DIDN’T TWEET!!! OMG!

Not to jump the gun—or the shark—but, prematurely speaking, it would seem that Trump has turned a corner. Overall, his address to Congress was conciliatory in tone; his morning after was free of the usual rant aimed at someone he doesn’t like; and his speech, for all the harrumphing in the usual corners, made no matters worse.

It’s a low bar, I’ll concede, but in a word, he seemed “normal.” Is this a new Trump? Can he sustain Tuesday night’s aura of gravitas? Can he just-not-be-weird for a while? As in, no more taunting North Korea, no more slamming critics, no more “fake news,” and for pity’s sake, no more strategic firings. If I may suggest a mantra: I will not fire Robert Mueller; I will not fire Robert Mueller; I will not fire Robert Mueller.

My fingers keep stabbing the keyboard to write: Don’t hold your breath. But a more productive observation is to say what is, in fact, true: It was a good speech, Mr. President. Congratulations. You made us feel less crazed. And that, too, is good.

Kathleen Parker writes for the Washington Post. Her email address is

Our Views: Rewriting the narrative about rural Wisconsin

Bleak portrayals of rural America have become so commonplace that it might shock some readers to learn many young families are moving to rural Wisconsin because they want to live there.

Officials and the media have been fretting for years about the “brain drain” phenomenon of young adults leaving small towns in search of better opportunities in metro areas. News outlets have been pushing a sky-is-falling narrative with headlines such as “Rural America is the New ‘Inner City,’” “The Graying of Rural America” and “As More Move to the City, Does Rural America Matter?”

Sure, rural America has challenges (so do metro areas), but a new UW-Madison study shows many young adults think highly of rural communities and are moving there because small towns offer what many large cities don’t: safety and a sense of community.

The UW-Madison study, which examined 12 small to mid-size Wisconsin municipalities, including Evansville and Delavan, dispels assumptions about both rural and urban living. While young adults are moving to Evansville and Delavan, they aren’t flocking to highly urbanized Milwaukee County.

Evansville had a 40 percent increase in young adults over the past decade, while Delavan experienced a 23 percent increase. Meanwhile, Milwaukee County mostly failed to lure young people, with fewer than 10 percent of Milwaukee County municipalities showing growth in the population among those 20 to 39 years old between 1990 and 2010.

“Brain drain” isn’t exclusively a rural problem, nor does it describe Rock County’s or Walworth County’s situations. Here, we’re experiencing a “brain gain.”

This study is another reason to shed rural stereotypes and rewrite the sad narratives advanced by writers whose biases betray their sense of urban superiority. These writers and publications look down on rural lifestyles and (wittingly or not) sell rural America as undesirable for young, progressive families.

Rural communities are in some ways more progressive than their urban peers, which can feel lonely despite their dense populations. Rural America today offers a much-needed respite from our 24/7 wired culture. Strong communities rely on interpersonal exchanges. They encourage trust and kindness among neighbors, which older adults took for granted as youth but is elusive nowadays, especially in urban centers.

The UW-Madison study’s participants reveal a longing for a community-oriented lifestyle. One Evansville resident said, “I love it here. It’s really friendly, and not everyone is into the small town thing, but it’s homey. I feel safe here. I walk around a lot at night by myself.” Another said, “It’s dangerous for us to run errands because anything can become a social opportunity.”

Spontaneous social opportunities are one of the many reasons young adults are heading to rural communities. Rock and Walworth counties along with other rural areas should focus more on what they have to offer and worry less about their shortcomings. (Remember, urban living isn’t the utopia often implied in articles focusing on rural problems.)

The UW-Madison study is proof “brain gain” is possible in rural areas and is happening here. Rural Rock and Walworth counties aren’t dying. They’re growing and thriving, but don’t expect our urban neighbors to admit this bit of good news.

Harrop: Big Pharma may own D.C., but it doesn't own Amazon

President Trump offered few words about health care in his State of the Union address. He did mention drug prices, though.

“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs,” he said. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. ... That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities.”

Which is an interesting thing for Trump to say, given that he has just made Alex Azar, a top executive at drugmaker Eli Lilly, head of Health and Human Services. Lilly tripled the price of insulin during Azar’s tenure there. Suffice it to say, the one injustice Eli Lilly does not want to fix is high drug prices.

There was a bigger story going on, and it was not unrelated. Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced that they are putting their heads together to create a health care plan for their 1.1 million U.S. employees. Sounds like leverage to me. Eight states have fewer people.

During the presidential campaign, Trump vowed that if elected, he would have Medicare negotiate more favorable drug prices with the manufacturers. Since he took office, that pledge has not seen the light of day.

Washington was never good at standing up to the medical-industrial complex. There’s too much money to be made in standing down. And a separation between the public’s wallet and Big Pharma’s desire to extract huge profits is surely one wall Trump will never build.

But the medical industry does not own Amazon, the world’s largest internet company, or Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate Fortune ranks as America’s third-most profitable company, or JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank.

The fine details have yet to be revealed, but the stated plan is to create a company that would be free from profit-making incentives. That’s not great news for profit-oriented suppliers. The stocks of UnitedHealth Group, Aetna and CVS—which plans to buy Aetna—all took a beating after the announcement.

The partners say they will use technology to simplify the delivery of health care. And they insist the new system will improve the services available to employees.

The beauty of this corporate trio’s gambit is they are bypassing the politicians. Their aim is to “disrupt” the forces that saddle them with exorbitant prices.

“The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s fabled CEO, stated with trademark simplicity.

Wonder what they’re going to do about drug prices. The drug Humira offers a window into the challenges.

According to the ads, Humira enables a woman hurting from rheumatoid arthritis to chase her puppy all over the house. (“Ask your doctor about Humira.”) In 2012, Humira cost a ridiculous $19,000 a year. Its maker, AbbVie, recently raised the price to a piratical $38,000.

The bottom line is that the U.S. spends nearly twice as much on health care as a percentage of the economy as do other industrialized countries—while its people use about the same amount of health care. Corporate America has long objected to what this costly health care is doing to its bottom line.

So bringing down the prices is the big game in taming total health care spending. No one says this will be easy, and doubters point to past failed corporate efforts. But these are three giants who don’t scare easily. Amazon has already shown interest in selling pharmaceuticals.

Since Washington won’t do much about the prices for health care, let’s see what Amazon, Berkshire and JPMorgan come up with. Go forth and disrupt, we say.

Froma Harrop writes for Creators Syndicate. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at