Second, it was a good speech. It was clear and plain and at points had a surprising sweetness. He stuck to his usual policy sternness and yet added rhetorical warmth. There was a lot of braggadocio—“A new national pride is sweeping across our nation”—but there was also something more important. To get to it I mention something that is misunderstood about Ronald Reagan.
The cliché is that Reagan’s power was his optimism—he walked into the room with the sun’s rays dancing on his shoulders, and that made everything better. That’s not true. Reagan wasn’t precisely an optimist. He didn’t assume history unspooled each day in the direction of improvement; he didn’t necessarily think the best thing would happen. What was true was that Reagan was confident—in his own powers and those of the American people. He was confident we could make the right decisions and turn things around. People saw that confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic.
Confidence, in a president, is important. Mr. Trump’s speech was confident. He rose politically by painting an America in bleak decline, but here he insisted our problems are not irreversible. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. . . . The challenges we face as a nation are great. But our people are even greater.”