Donald Trump gives presidential speech, but bipartisanship still a remote prospect 

WASHINGTON - Starting and ending with a call for unity, President Donald Trump - in his first address to a joint session of Congress 40 days into his presidency - departed from his usual combative style to strike an inclusive and conciliatory tone, urging Republicans and Democrats to work together to revive and fix an ailing America.

Yet analysts said while it was the most presidential of his speeches thus far, it would be too much to expect the divided nation to paper over differences and work together.

The deep political polarisation was visible even as Mr Trump spoke. At almost every other sentence, the Republican half of the chamber stood and applauded, but by and large, except for obviously bipartisan issues like veterans' welfare, the Democratic Party half sat stonily through the hour-long speech.  

Soon after, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which went to court to stall one of Mr Trump's early executive orders curbing immigration and refugee intake, tweeted that the speech was "empty" and "divorced from the reality of harm he has inflicted on vulnerable communities".

And in response to the president's mention of Chicago's high homicide rate, the official account of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel - a Democrat - tweeted: "Appreciate the attention to Chicago, but prefer it come with federal resources attached: investments in police, our young people (and) in jobs."

 
 
 
 
 

Professor Glenn Altschuler of Cornell University said "overall this was the kind of speech that will play well with Americans".

"What Americans often respond to in these speeches are tone, patriotic rhetoric and aspirational goals even when they are vague," he told The Straits Times.

"But of course very much like Donald Trump, it was devoid of specifics. It did not address any of the complications. This country will be no less divided and politically polarised tomorrow than it was yesterday."

Mr Michael Kugelman, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, said: "It was probably the most presidential speech he has given in his short term. It was not the campaign rally type of speech which we have gotten used to hearing."

"He acknowledged the horrific things that have happened over the last few days. For the first time he singled out the Indian engineer who was killed in Kansas which was probably a hate crime, and brought attention to attacks, threats on Jewish facilities.

"He was trying to acknowledge these things are happening," he said.

Last week, in what the FBI is investigating as a hate crime, an Indian engineer was shot dead and another wounded in a Kansas bar by an American shouting at them to "get out of my country".

And in recent days, at least two Jewish cemeteries have been vandalised and Jewish establishments threatened in what activists warn is a wave of anti-Semitism which the president's critics say he has not adequately addressed.

But Mr Kugelman also said: "I can't remember the last time a president made a speech to a joint session of Congress and had such an overt level of polarisation and partisanship. That was very telling and perhaps ominous as well.

"This is a country that politically is about as disunited as it can possibly get. Despite efforts on the part of Trump tonight, and even if he makes further calls for unity in the days ahead, he's still not going to be able to do it."