On a cool and rainy night in Washington, D.C. and just over one month since his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump finally acted like the president. It was an honor for me to witness history as the president made his first address to a joint session of Congress on February 28.
My opportunity to attend came at the invitation of Georgia 1st District Congressman Buddy Carter and at the newspaper’s expense.
My observations were not going to be based on a social media post, the national media or anything else – only on my eyes and ears.
My expectation heading into the address was not very high with the recent election tumult, charges of Russian interference and the lack of meaningful discourse. This is true not only for the last few months, but for the last few decades when growing partisanship, a lack of compromise and gridlock have grown and ruled supreme.
Encountering protesters and disruption was foremost on my mind as my thoughts focused on the address. So was more name calling and rants on fake news. And sadly, an expectation that civility would drop to an all-time low.
But, the president showed a softer tone and a vision that was well received. Surveys the next day showed the American people gave him high marks. Even the national media, for the most part, gave him good reviews.
My seat was at a 90 degree angle to the left of the president in the gallery of the House of Representatives. Visitors to the address were seated approximately one hour prior to the event.
For me, sitting one section away from the First Lady, members of the First Family and honored Americans, the experience was inspiring, captivating and educational.
Attendees were not allowed to bring electronic devices into the chamber and security required today’s version of the coat check for phones – a very liberating experience. And if you were not going to already, attendees did what most people don’t do today – talk to one another and not text, e-mail or use social media to talk at each other.
Outside of the excellent speech, talking to others attending was the best part of the evening. Sitting next to me was a young female intern from the office of a Democrat from California. On the other side of me was an Air Force commander from North Carolina. And beside him, there was a gentleman from Pennsylvania. We had great conversations without the rancor and division found today in our national discourse even though we came from vastly different backgrounds.
There were citizens from all across the country representing the melting pot which is America. Your politics didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that you were an American, regardless of your age, your religion, your ethnic group, or anything else.
Unlike the partisanship of elected officials, the citizens in the gallery didn’t throw out the baby with the bath water because they were Democrats or Republicans.
The attendees displayed what our politicians do not. They agreed with some of the president’s visions and not with others. But, they didn’t reject everything because of partisan posturing. Everything was not all good or all bad.
There are things to like and dislike with our new president, but my fellow citizens in the seats around me seemed to like much more than they disliked.
Thankfully, the president gave an address worthy of presidents. There were times of audible disagreement, but it was subtle, quiet and mostly respectful.
We can all learn from those in attendance. While probably unlikely in today’s climate, it is my hope that we can somehow find common ground as a nation to solve the major issues affecting us.
Hopefully, our elected officials can take a cue from this event and get to the solutions that bring us back together. It is going to require give and take from all sides.
In the gallery of ordinary Americans, it felt like we were together – even if it was only for 70 minutes during the address and 60 minutes of prior conversation.
Michael Traynor is the president of Morning News Media and the publisher of the Savannah (Georgia) Morning News and savannahnow.com.