It was a shocking statement from the man who spent the night of November 8th decrying Donald Trump’s victory as a “whitelash against a changing country.”
But there was Van Jones last night on CNN declaring that Trump “became president of the United States in that moment, period” when he led a two minute standing ovation for the widow of the Navy SEAL who died last month in an operation in Yemen the president approved.
“That was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period,” Jones added. “And for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that maybe he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight, because that thing you just saw him do—if he finds a way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years.”
“Now, there was a lot that he said in that speech that was counterfactual, that was not right, that I oppose and will oppose,” Jones continued. “But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him. He became president of the United States.”
While those words garnered Jones some rare praise from conservative outlets like Fox News and others, the backlash from the left was swift. Progressive commentators from The Nation’s Joan Walsh to MTV News’ Jamil Smith came down hard on Jones with tweets like the ones below:
“The man lied to that woman's face on national television, and he closed by telling her that her fallen husband was probably smiling down from heaven because of the standing ovation he just got from a bunch of leering, clap-happy vacant suits who can't wait to take healthcare away from poor people!” GQ’s Jay Willis wrote in response. “It's certainly ‘extraordinary, but not in a good way, and it's definitely not ‘presidential.’”
And then there was his fellow CNN commentator Angela Rye, who usually finds herself in agreement with Jones but was pitted against him in a debate Wednesday afternoon. Jones began by insisting that he still thinks Trump’s rhetoric is as “full of lies” as it’s always been, but he believes the president has developed a “new weaponry” to get his message across that liberals should be wary of.
“I definitely don’t think that this was presidential,” Rye said in response to Jones. If by presidential we’re talking about a leader on a world stage, one that Americans can be, everywhere, hopeful about and supportive of, then I think the answer is a resounding no.” She said he “took 61 minutes to tell 51 lies,” referring to a tally from the Center for American Progress.
The moment between the president and the widow, Carryn Owens, demonstrated Trump’s capacity to be “a decent human being,” Rye admitted. But she did not think that makes him “presidential,” adding, “I’m not willing to give him a pass because the bar is low.”
Regardless if he’s “screaming” or “trolling media on Twitter,” Rye said Trump’s “policies” will always be more important than the “message” he’s putting out. “We have to be woke and we can’t be distracted by the tone at all,” she added.
Defending himself from the criticism, Jones said all the left needs to do is “watch the bounce” Trump receives from the speech. “All I’m saying is you now have, potentially, a prettier wrapper on the same poison,” Jones said. He said liberals need to begin to “internalize” the possibility that Trump could change temperamentally.
“When I’m saying he’s presidential, that’s frankly a bare standard,” Jones said. “I’m not saying he’s George Washington or Barack Obama. But I am saying he did crack now that bare standard and we are going to have to take him more seriously.”