It is not necessary to channel the spirit of James Madison to conclude that the state of the union is a mess. Only the impeached Donald J. Trump or a member of the Trump Republican Party could say with a straight face, "Our families are flourishing. Our values are renewed. Our pride is restored…The state of our Union is stronger than ever before."
Tuesday's bizarre mix of campaign event and reality TV treated the nation to a hodgepodge of distortion, lies, and bombast woven into a delusional phantasmagoria bearing witness to the desperate plight of presidential speechwriters called on to gratify the impeached president's insatiable craving for self-glorification and pathological compulsion to denigrate his predecessor.
The speech is some piece of work. Superlatives abound. Best-ever economy, unmatched military power, most prosperous and inclusive society, record number of job-killing regulations slashed, lowest levels of unemployment in history for African Americans, Hispanics, women, veterans. &c. All the greatest in history, with the inevitable takeaway that in the opinion of the impeached president we are now blessed with the greatest president in history. (Links to fact checks of the address by AP and PolitiFact can be found in the reference section at the end.)
It is quite astounding. In three short years the impeached president has given Americans heaven on earth, or the closest to it in our history, at any rate. We should all grateful. Well, maybe not those kids in those cages down on the southern border or their parents who have been separated from them. Only a treasonous socialist elitist could question this price for an illusory security against an illusory threat posed by the undocumented. But we should be grateful because he is doing that for us. And he is not stopping there. No, the impeached president is working tirelessly to protect us from the horrors of sanctuary cities and failing government schools.
Only a treasonous socialist elitist might ask about the hundreds of thousands of homeless Americans who are presumably not flourishing. If the economy is booming like never before, would this not be the precise time to invest in programs to address the problem of homelessness? The president has said elsewhere that solving the problem would be easy. One supposes he has in mind shipping them to Guatemala. That would take care of it.
The evening's absurdity reached its apex when the Medal of Freedom was awarded to radical-right provocateur Rush Limbaugh, whose capacity for dissimulation rivals that of the impeached president.
The most memorable moment came at the end when Nancy Pelosi ripped up her copy of the impeached president's speech as he walked away from the podium. While this may not have been a politically wise move, it was an understandable response and fitting coda to the whole bizarre spectacle, all the more striking and poignant because this kind of public display is not Pelosi's style.
These observations by Lisa Desjardins at the PBS NewsHour offer a more accurate picture of the state of the union than anything we got from the impeached president:
Judy, I have never seen from Democrats that kind of look, not just of anger, but sort of deeper, personal offense at what the president was doing. You could see they were gritting their teeth the whole time when Rush Limbaugh was recognized and throughout.
And that exploded into some of their chanting. Members who have never chanted before in the chamber on both sides were chanting. That is completely new.
For Republicans, that roar of approval was a wave I had not heard before. Of course, Republicans loved that. But it seemed like it was reacting to almost anything this president said.
And, of course, Speaker Pelosi, a woman who sort of runs on her own dignity, she's someone who thinks about that a lot. For her to make — to take that step [ripping up her copy of the speech] was a very big one.
Desjardins reported what Pelosi told House Democrats in a private meeting yesterday morning:
[S]he felt that every page of that speech contained lies, and that that is why she ripped it up. She told them and the understanding is that she did that on the fly, that she made that decision while she was standing there.
She also made some very interesting comments, Judy, that might have more long-term consequences. She said she felt liberated by the speech, meaning, this is the president saying things that she knows to be false or she believes they're false, meaning, to me, she feels liberated to be so openly at odds with him, vs. a speaker who's trying to work to compromise, vs. a speaker who reached her hand.
By the end of the speech, she felt liberated to be the speaker who ripped up the speech, a big change just in the course of one State of the Union.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer delivered the Democratic response. Her remarks were tempered, sober, and substantive, a stark contrast to the stew of self-congratulation and vitriol spewed by the impeached president. The Democrats will be well served if Whitmer and people like new House members Elissa Slotkin (MI), Abigail Spanberger (VA), Mikie Sherrill (NJ), and Jason Crow (CO) come to be seen as the face of the party.
More anon as we turn to the Iowa caucuses, then on to New Hampshire, with an obligatory nod to that foreordained acquittal.
Keep the faith.
Associated Press, Text of President Trump's 2020 State of the Union Address, as delivered, provided by the White House, US News & World Report, February 5, 2020
Fact-checking Donald Trump's 2020 State of the Union address, PolitiFact, January 4, 2020
Judy Woodruff with Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins, Emotions flare at divided State of the Union, PBS NewsHour, February 5, 2020