In an address that took on the feel of one of his campaign rallies, President Donald Trump touted his record in his first year in office and told farmers gathered in Nashville that they're "lucky" he was willing to run for the White House and keep out Democrats.
Speaking Monday to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention, Trump painted a picture of a rural America that had been left behind by the rest of the country, burdened by overweening bureaucrats and forgotten by an increasingly high-tech culture. He promised them better times ahead, saying they would no longer be forgotten by Washington.
"Oh, are you happy you voted for me! You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege. The other choice wasn't going to work out too well for the farmers," he quipped.
The crowd of about 4,500 people gathered in the Gaylord Opryland Resort's Delta ballroom frequently cheered, as he riffed on topics as varied as the National Anthem, the tax-cut bill and rolling back water regulations. Some even wore red Trump hats emblazoned with variations on the "Make America Great Again" slogan.
The purpose of the visit was to promote his administration's five-point plan to turnaround struggling rural communities. Soon after taking office, Trump set up a task force to study their economic problems. The administration says it identified several keys areas, including opioid abuse, poor infrastructure and a lack of job skills needed by employers.
But perhaps the biggest issue is internet access. The administration says nearly 40 percent of people living in rural areas don't have adequate internet service — compared to 4 percent of urban Americans.
A desk was placed onstage so Trump could dramatically sign a pair of executive orders meant to expand broadband in rural areas. One streamlines approval for projects. The other calls on the Department of the Interior to install broadband towers on property it manages, a potentially vast portfolio of national parks, wildlife refuges and Indian territories.
With most of Tennessee's Congressional Republicans standing behind him — including Sen. Bob Corker, with whom he's sparred recently — the president signed the orders with a flourish.
Not once in Nashville did Trump mention the Russia investigation or rumors of turmoil within the White House, and he made only passing reference to immigration and his battles with the news media. For a president who thrives on campaigning and getting outside Washington, the opportunity to speak to a friendly crowd in Tennessee seemed to offer some pleasure.