Amidst the overwhelmingly positive message of President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint special session of Congress on Tuesday night, there was a poignant, tearful moment as the president led the room in a sustained standing ovation for the widow of Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens.
Carryn Owens moved from tears to smiles and back again as she glanced heavenwards and whispered to her late husband, then took in the room and silently thanked the country for its applause.
It was a moment that Americans have long awaited — an opportunity to mourn the heroes of the long war against terror, who have rarely been honored publicly or properly, largely because that war has been so politicized for so long.
In 2011, after the Navy SEAL raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, for example, President Barack Obama took some credit, but did not allow the public to celebrate. Crowds of students and young people who gathered outside the White House that night, waving American flags and cheering, showed the intense desire Americans shared to enjoy the victory, but there was never a moment where they joined their leaders in doing so.
The first opportunity came weeks later — ironically, during a speech by a foreign leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a special joint session of Congress, Netanyahu told America:
Israel has no better friend than America, and America has no better friend than Israel. (Applause.) We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism. Congratulations, America. Congratulations, Mr. President: You got bin Laden. Good riddance! (Cheers, applause.)
The transcript does not convey the tone of relief in that applause: finally, it was all right to cheer.
President Trump’s speech offered another long-awaited opportunity: the chance to celebrate those who have died in a cause largely unseen and unknown, and sometimes abandoned and even denigrated.
President Barack Obama was at his best when offering medals to those who displayed their heroism on the battlefield, but he sometimes faltered at paying his respects to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. His legacy will be forever marred by his administration’s effort to blame the deaths of four Americans at Benghazi on a YouTube video, and to downplay their role in saving the diplomats there.
That moment on Tuesday night transcended politics. It was a moment of unity in grief, and grace. It was what America needed, to move forward.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.