The state of...things...


Yesterday evening I poured a Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout into a glass and settled in for Donald J. Trump's first State of the Union address. I did not relish the prospect. There was temptation to skip the telecast and read—well, skim—the transcript later before going on to accounts and analysis. The responsibility to see for myself won out.

The speech went much as anticipated. I give Trump a pass on the questionable assertion that the state of our union is strong. A president pretty much has to say that. He took full credit for trends in the economy, job creation and unemployment, and the stock market that have been ongoing since well before his appearance on the scene. Trump's contention that his tax and deregulation policies are responsible is overblown, but all presidents take more credit for this kind of thing than is their due. I give him a pass here too.

Well, let's say a partial pass. The Trump regime has created job opportunities in the fact-check industry. People in that line of work had their plates full last night. The recital of achievements and accomplishments was a litany of exaggeration, embellishment, stretching the truth, and beyond. The reference section below has links if you want to check out what some of the fact-checkers found.

I was struck by the subdued atmosphere in the room. Yes, Republicans stood and clapped on cue, and even let out with a chorus of "USA, USA," but with not all that much enthusiasm. Then there was the first lady. She did not appear to be much happier about being there than Nancy Pelosi. Trump was his own biggest cheerleader, clapping loudest and longest.

The call to end the sequester on military spending is ominous because among other things increased funding for the military figures to be accompanied by a fresh assault on the social safety net, environmental protection, workplace safety, &c., to pay for it.

We got an inspirational speech last night. It did not come from the president. Maybe the best news of the evening for the opposition, myself included, was that young Joe Kennedy did not pull a Bobby Jindal when he presented the official Democratic Party response. I have not followed him up to now. His speech was impressive.

Amy Walter on the PBS NewsHour pointed out that Kennedy echoed Hillary Clinton's "stronger together" theme, which did not work out all that well for her in 2016. I like Walter's commentary. Here I would quibble with her in that the failure of the theme to resonate in the 2016 campaign may have had as much to do with the messenger as with the message, along with all sorts of other factors that have been debated and rehashed into muck since election night.

One down. Three to go? Feels like we have been more than a year under the Trump regime, doesn't it?

References

  • Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution commands that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” That’s it.

Different presidents have interpreted this mandate in different ways. Until President Woodrow Wilson, for instance, the State of the Union was delivered in writing — it was thought to be unseemly, even demagogic, to deliver the speech in person.

Today, the State of the Union is a strange amalgam of campaign rally, bragging opportunity, and product unveiling. Presidents use it to promote their records, sell their new proposals, and make their case to the American people. What they rarely do is deliver a serious, substantive overview of, well, the state of the union. So we thought we’d give it a try. —Ezra Klein (Vox staff, The real state of the union in 2018, explained: What Donald Trump won’t tell you, January 30, 2018

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