He Spoke Not So Much About the State of the Union as the State of Trump
Yesterday was hailed for the appearance of an unusual “super blue blood moon,” a rare coincidental combination of three more common lunar. The trouble in celebrating the moon-watching is that it depends on where you live.
So too with Trump’s State of the Union address: It was an unusual occurrence of the president reading a speech that covered a lot of ground, lasted longer than it might and probably did not change anyone’s mind. Still, the speech was boffo, per Fox News, and a dud, according to critics, pretty much reflecting what could have been said last week—or next week.
Much like the appearance of the one-day moon, the effects of a speech that talked of unity, but veiled an insistence on well-worn Trump policies, it will not change anyone’s view of Trump or the operations of the universe.
The speech is always less important than the actual policies and actions of the White House and the government. Largely, it is a stage for a president to take credit for anything carrying his name, and promise a direction for the future. This only difference for Trump is proportion: He takes more credit, and offers fewer promises for what’s to come. As usual, he made errors or stretched the truth to his advantage at times, but overall, gave a speech that many viewed as positive, especially as compared with his inaugural address.
The whole State of the Union feels stuffy and dated, not in sitting through a speech, but in its total effect. We don’t need television pictures to understand that Democrats sit on their hands while Republicans cheer, that there are a few invited guests to bring the president’s points to the fore, or that we all like hearing that there are more jobs to be created.
Still, we do look to such speeches and events for some inspiration, for some sense of what’s ahead. And to feel good about going out there and trying to achieve.
In that sense, there was little to learn here.
If anything, we got an empty feeling about the role of politics, a promise of more divisiveness in and out of government, and a promise of more infighting. Despite Trump’s calls for unity on resolving immigration issues and launching expensive infrastructure proposals, parties on both sides of the aisle made clear even before the speech that they will oppose the proposals.
Trump seems to have a single-minded view about unity: Agree with me.
The speech also proved without a doubt that ceremonial words alone will not make Americans feel great. It takes some real work and some believable empathy.
So what are the things that concern this president? It is an agenda of overturning anything that his predecessor supported, for eliminating regulations governing consumer protection and environmental sense, freeing and incenting corporations to do whatever they want in pursuit of profit under an overgeneralized view that what is good for Business will be good eventually for all.
It’s an outlook about America that is fueled by a hypocrisy about the role of government and about the nobility of public service. In its place, Trump has substituted personal advancement and self-gratification.
Indeed, even this week, this president will ignore the Department of Justice and the FBI advice to approve the release of the congressional memo written by Republican Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee about FBI missteps. The release will put apparently incomplete, somewhat inaccurate information related to the all-things-Russia investigation as a means of undermining credibility in the Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The president, who courageously is calling for creating a path for citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, has set the price for that act as a complete rewrite of the spirit of legal and illegal immigration to this country. So, Trump offers to give, so long as he can take more than a proportionate share of any argument.
Trump thinks this quality makes him a good deal-maker, but he has not accepted the idea that he is not negotiating for himself, he is supposed to be making life better for all of us. Indeed, lots of commentators, both those who praise Trump as well as those who criticize, continue to note that he is approaching the job of President as he did his own family-run company. There was no board of directors, there was no real dissension, the goal was simply more money, and Trump’s word could be the first and final say.
It continues to impress me, negatively, that this president’s most important contribution has been to turn statements of fact into statements about himself. So, Trump, whose term so far has seen conflict and division, could believe that he is ushering in a “new American moment.”
At the same time, the moon rose for its single day of note, only to sink lower and finally disappear later in the day.