Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 6, 2019
The State of the Union speech was an elaborate paid ad for building the Wall and America First. It was all but a campaign speech for reelection of the president.
For a speech that the White House had taken pains to say was a recommitment to bipartisanship and working across the aisle, that thin veneer didn’t hold up very long. For a speech about a vision and direction for the country, it was a presentation that kept fact-checking hopping all night. It was a speech with sly daggers for political opponents hidden among the nice words, as in asserting that you can’t have a strong country if there are investigations of misdeeds in the administration.
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations,” he said. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” Does that sound like the realities of living with a split Congress?
It’s because the president has a particular definition for bipartisanship and compromise: Agree with me. There is no attempt to persuade, just to repeat the same information over and over.
Strip away all the niceties, and you had the president appearing before a Congress that was missing many protesting Democrats to argue the emotional case for a Wall. Again.
From Trump’s point of view, the economy, our trade policies, America’s foreign policy and military readiness has been kicked into shape only by the presence of Donald J. Trump. As far as he is concerned, only border security remains as a major problem.
In speaking, Trump described a world in which everyone is prosperous, in which there is no racial or economic discord, in which individual rights are not under fire, in which there are no children being taken from migrant families, in which furloughed federal workers don’t have to stand in food lines — it’s a world that is not the one I live in.
Actually, in her formal response, Democrat Stacey Abrams hit it right on the nose for me, challenging us to look at the realities of guns in our society, of slipping wages, of student debt, small businesses in search of capital, and the need to address voter suppression.
Sure, the president got applause from both sides of the Congress just by mentioning such hoped-for legislative goals as health care and infrastructure. All that was missing was the stuff of debate — the what and how of it all. After all, Trump thinks he is improving health care by putting millions of people ineligible for Obamacare.
We know that even when he did acknowledge that crumbling infrastructure, inadequate health care and rising prescription costs as addressable problems, we know that what was missing in the pitch to bipartisanship to a Democratic House and split Congress was that only elements that meet his personal standard and electoral reelection mapping needs would be acceptable as answers.
In other words, the State of the Union is for more and increasing presidential powers and an obedient Congress.
Meanwhile, as he applied his thinking to the border wall proposition, Trump has failed to acknowledge that he has negotiating partners before him who may have alternate proposals to his own. It seems a rather basic concept, no? There may be more than one set of answers to problems, even if it runs against some pre-conceived notions that feel vaguely racist and fearful.
As The New York Times noted during the speech, “As Trump detailed a litany of familiar talking points about caravans marching toward the United States, there was a disgruntled round of groans, punctuated by a couple boos as they looked around at each other, shaking their heads.”
The opposite of Wall is not No Wall and “open borders,” it is consideration of data. It is true for those other problems that the president ticked off. It is true for the president’s nonsensical rejection of analysis by his own intelligence agencies.
Those of us hoping that government exists to identify and solve practicable problems are stuck wondering what happened to the problem of coming up with effective proposals to resolve these outstanding issues.
Even when he pledged a half-billion to medical research in childhood cancers (isn’t Joe Biden still heading an attempt to coordinate cancer research), it was a sop to bipartisanship, because no one could be against killing cancer. Or ISIS. Or about trying not to fight endless wars. What kind of leadership does it take to say we will remember the sacrifices of veterans?
It is the how-to that matters.
To listen to the president roll through his list of achievements was to hear the tinny sound of an isolated player piano playing slightly off-key.
Whether referring to new abortion laws in New York, defense spending or the hideous prospect of “socialism” taking over the United States, the more that Trump talked, the more one-sided his presentation became. Compromise and bipartisanship were hardly the order of the day, despite the White House public relations effort.
The state of our union good for those who are well off, and difficult for everyone else. The state of our union is sorry because we won’t do the work to understand a problem before papering it over with partisan power politics.