Okay, that’s over. He was uncomfortable, saying things others had written for him, things that just weren’t “him” at all, but had to be said. Everyone else was uncomfortable listening to him be uncomfortable. But everyone was supposed to listen. This was the president, Donald Trump, giving his annual State of the Union address, to Congress, officially, and to the nation, the whole point of the thing. Everyone was supposed to tune in. This was the word on how the nation would sink or swim for the next year – everyone’s business – but of course it wasn’t that. Donald Trump has his issues, with the world, and with what others say is reality. These are anger issues. He shares those issues with his angry base. Everyone else has issues with Donald Trump. This is getting dangerous.
The speech itself was, however, nothing much. This president – like all presidents at one time or another – called for unity and compromise and an end to the bickering that goes nowhere – for the greater good. That was boring, and kind of rich, coming from the man who never compromises on anything. He breaks wills. He breaks people. He gets his way. He always gets his way. And then he gloats. But there was no contradiction in any of this. He clarified matters. He’ll change nothing. He will not soften even one of his positions, ever. This is not his problem. And he chooses his words carefully. “Resistance” must end. And all investigations of him, and of his businesses and family and friends, must end too. The words were something like “there can be legislation with investigations.”
That was a threat. Each and every Democrat is now on notice. Cut it out or he’ll veto anything and everything Congress passes – or so he implied. As for the rest of the speech, there were no surprises. Millions and millions of rapists and murderers and drug dealers, and gang members, and ISIS terrorists, are pouring across our southern border, hourly, so he’s sending more troops down there, because this is an invasion. But it’s more than that. These people are now raping our women and murdering our policemen and taking all the good jobs – which makes them the one single cause of all of the nation’s problems – and the Democrats approve of all of this, because they’re evil too. There was a lot of that. There’s always a lot of that.
And that was that. The rest is just detail. Philip Rucker, the White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, covers that detail:
President Trump confronted a split Congress for the first time Tuesday night by delivering a dissonant State of the Union address, interspersing uplifting paeans to bipartisan compromise with chilling depictions of murder and ruin.
Calling the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border “an urgent national crisis,” Trump again called on Congress to approve construction of his long-promised wall – and argued that without the physical barrier, working-class Americans would lose their jobs and grapple with dangerous crime and overcrowded schools and hospitals.
Trump also sounded an unmistakable threat to the new Democratic House majority over impending oversight investigations into his conduct and personal finances, as well as alleged corruption in the administration. The president warned that everyday Americans may suffer from what he termed “ridiculous” probes.
And that was that:
As he delivered his speech from the rostrum of the House chamber, with a stone-faced Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) observing over his left shoulder, Trump stared into a sea of Democratic women wearing bright white in tribute to suffragists who secured women’s right to vote. Together, they formed a vivid illustration of this year’s power shift and the potential political peril for Trump’s presidency.
The tension in the chamber was palpable. As Trump declared the state of the union to be “strong,” the women in white stayed seated while Republican lawmakers, most of them men in dark suits, stood to cheer.
That was a bit startling, but there were other moments:
Rare moments of joint applause came when Trump touted the bipartisan criminal justice law he signed in December, vowed to fight childhood cancer and committed to eliminating HIV in 10 years.
That, however, was puppies-and-kittens stuff, the easy stuff, not the hard stuff:
Trump began and ended his 82-minute speech with a unifying tone that was in conflict with many of his own actions and statements, especially over the past month, one of the more contentious of his presidency.
A president who proudly retaliates against his enemies, taunts his political foes with nicknames and considers himself one of the world’s great counter-punchers exhorted Congress to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.”
Trump added: “We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction. Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”
Just eight hours earlier, Trump trashed Democrats – as well as the late Republican senator John McCain – at a freewheeling lunch with television news anchors. He assailed Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as a “nasty son of a bitch,” ridiculed former vice president Joe Biden as “dumb” for his history of gaffes, and accused Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) of “choking like a dog” at a news conference where he denied being in a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page, according to two attendees and a person briefed on the discussion.
Donald Trump will be back to that in the morning, because he is who he is:
The president Tuesday sought to paint undocumented immigrants who cross the southern border, often seeking asylum, as an invading force prone to violent crime. “As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States,” Trump said, adding that he “just heard” that Mexican cities were trying to rid their communities of migrants by directing truckloads of them to areas along the border where there is little protection.
“This is a moral issue,” Trump said. “The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security and financial well-being of all Americans.” He added, “Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate. It is actually very cruel.”
Illegal border crossings are down significantly from their historic peaks, and some research indicates that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than U.S. citizens do. Still, Trump has claimed that only a border wall would be effective in keeping out the migrants, many of whom are families with children.
Yeah, well, he’s like that, and in a different world:
Trump used his speech to defend his “America First” foreign policy, which has rattled Western allies and sparked some backlash within his party. Several Republican lawmakers have publicly criticized the president’s recent decision to pull troops out of Syria, for instance.
Proclaiming that “great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump highlighted his recent attempts to extract U.S. forces from foreign conflicts.
The president also touted his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and announced that he would hold his second summit with the dictator on Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam.
“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” Trump said. “Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-Un is a good one.”
That was odd, because Trump started it all:
Trump’s remarks highlighted just how much has changed in the past year. During his 2018 State of the Union address, Trump decried the “depraved character” of the North Korean regime and highlighted its torturous practices.
On Tuesday, Trump made no mention of North Korea’s human rights abuses or other atrocities.
Trump was the one who escalated things until a war seemed certain – he promised to wipe North Korea from the face of the Earth – his red button was bigger that Kim’s red button – they would all DIE if they didn’t bend to his will – and then, suddenly, he admired Kim. Kim could have anything he wanted. They “loved” each other, and Kim would give up all of his nukes – the threat of war was over, but he had made the threat. Clinton never once said it is war with North Korea right now – for certain – unless this or that. George W. Bush didn’t tee up certain war with North Korea. Obama didn’t either – but Trump did. So yes, Trump did save us from certain nuclear war, which he set up all by himself. He saved us from him? What?
This was an odd speech, and Ezra Klein felt a bit of whiplash:
I liked when he called on the country to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.” But then I remembered America is only 10 days past the longest government shutdown in history, which Trump triggered when he refused to compromise or cooperate with Democrats. And I remembered that Trump’s acting chief of staff just said the president is willing to do it again.
I liked when Trump said, “I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” But then I remembered that Trump killed an immigration deal – one he had agreed to, and that would have given him his wall while protecting Dreamers – because it didn’t cut legal immigration to the country.
I liked when Trump described his tax plan as “a massive tax cut for working families.” But then I remembered that more than 80 percent of its benefits went to the top 1 percent.
I liked when Trump said that he had “launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before.” But then I remembered that job growth was exactly as fast before he took office, and he was calling those numbers “phony” and “false” until the day he took credit for them.
That’s whiplash, and so is this:
I liked when Trump said that the nation’s priority should be to “lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs, and to protect patients with preexisting conditions.” But then I remembered that his policies had led to 7 million more people becoming uninsured, and that he had fought (and failed) to pass legislation ending protections for preexisting conditions.
I liked when Trump told Congress that an infrastructure bill was “not an option,” but “a necessity.” Then I remembered that Trump has been president for years now, that he had control of Congress for most of that time, and that he has never prioritized either proposing or passing an infrastructure package. In the Trump presidency, it’s always infrastructure week, and it always will be.
I liked when Trump said that “one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before.” Then I remembered that most of those women won office running against Trump’s agenda, and against the things he’s said about women.
Klein would have preferred this:
Trump’s speech tonight could have been a victory lap. He could have bragged about the roads being repaired and the bridges being built by his infrastructure bill. He could have talked about the lives being saved by his massive mobilization to staunch the opioid crisis. He could have pointed to tax cuts focused on the middle-class, a border wall built in exchange for protecting DREAMers, a health care effort that did what he promised and expanded coverage while cutting deductibles. And all of it would have come in context of the strongest economy since the 1990s.
Instead, Trump delivered his address with Speaker Nancy Pelosi looming over his shoulder, a reminder of the midterm election he just lost. He spoke having delayed the State of the Union due to a government shutdown he demanded, and subsequently lost. He spoke with an approval rating of 41 percent – lower than his predecessor, Barack Obama, during the worst of the Great Recession.
But it didn’t have to be this way:
The Trump presidency carries its direct costs, and it carries its opportunity costs. Its direct costs come in money wasted on high-income tax cuts, in the deterioration of America’s reputation abroad, in the corruption snaking through the executive branch, in the families ripped apart at the border, in the government agencies hollowed by an exodus of talented staff.
The opportunity costs are harder to measure, but no less real. Trump’s presidency has burned time, trust, and political energy that could have gone towards addressing America’s real problems. These are years that could have been spent fighting climate change, expanding health care coverage, investing in R&D, designing a saner and safer immigration system, making the tax code reward work rather than wealth.
These are years that could have been spent making the presidency Trump imagined tonight a reality.
Matthew Yglesias sees the same:
When Trump was a candidate, the big question about him was whether he was offering an exciting new synthesis of ideas or just a mishmash of nonsense delivered by an ignorant and dishonest buffoon. After two years of watching his presidency, we can unequivocally see that the latter interpretation is correct.
And this will not get better:
Trump’s concluding exhortations to “look at the opportunities before us” and recognize that “our most thrilling achievements are still ahead” fell fundamentally flat. Trump does not have any big ideas or grand transformative vision. His administration is essentially a three-legged stool. On the first leg, the slow but steady improvement in economic conditions that happened during Barack Obama’s final six years in office has continued through Trump’s first two. On the second leg, he’s turned over essentially every government agency to business interests who enjoy lax regulation and thus ensure he and his party remains well-funded. On the third, he has anti-immigrant demagoguery to blame for every problem under the sun.
There are no real ideas here to tackle the escalating costs of health care, higher education, housing, and child care. No interest in economic inequality, no real thought about foreign policy, and basically no real energy or sense of purpose. Trump’s key idea was that to maintain peace and prosperity, Congress needs to abdicate its oversight responsibilities and let him be as corrupt as he wants.
This is a man who is faking it:
That’s all he’s left with – a vague hope that the economy holds up and nobody catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. But the investigations are going to happen, and they’re going to be fascinating.
Trump himself, meanwhile, is just dull now.
And that was that. The speech was over – and Donald Trump would be rage-tweeting soon enough, taking it all back. There’s no reason to take this seriously.