Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech tried to strike a unifying tone. But it was unnerving to hear him talk of rejecting the politics of revenge and the need for compromise. Did Melania write it?
The only humdingers centered on illegal immigration, but they were essentially a recitation of his greatest hits. The same old claptrap about MS-13 swarming over 20 states and caravans heading for the borders and squishy liberals failing to recognize the dire need for a border wall. When it came to NATO, he was on his best behavior, stating that he, and he alone, had cajoled its members into forking over $100 billion to beef up their militaries.
His emollient approach was jarring. ‘We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions,’ he stated. This doesn’t sound like Trump, but the presidential predecessors that he regularly derides. Trump recited multiple history lessons, many centering on World War II and the Holocaust. It was moving to see the tributes the survivors of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. If anything testified to the character and grit of American, it was them.
As for Trump, he was rather vague when it came to discussing domestic and foreign policy. The most he said about Syria and Afghanistan was that he wanted to halt ‘endless wars.’ When it came to Russia, he explained that he had no choice but to bolt from the INF treaty. Then it was on to hailing a bunch more invitees in the audience.
Earlier in the day, as the New York Times reported, Trump had called Joe Biden ‘dumb’ and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer ‘a nasty son of a bitch.’ This is the authentic Trump. It can’t be long before he reemerges. At least the press corps better hope so. The Trump 2.0 that appeared tonight had a markedly somnolent effect. As Trump droned on, it seemed as though his speech would never end.
The truth is that if his interminable speech is anything to go by, Trump seems to have run out of ideas. He kept circling around the same themes as though he were an airplane in a holding pattern. The rumbustious Trump was MIA. No talk about nationalism. The phrase ‘America First’ only appeared at the end of his speech. And the only time he took a real swing at his opponents was when he complained that ‘ridiculous partisan investigations’ were jeopardizing American national security. But the invigilation of his administration isn’t coming to an end; it’s barely started. The news that New York prosecutors are combing over the receipts for his 2016 inaugural, coupled with the numerous congressional investigations that are starting to hear up, means that Trump, to borrow a phrase from George H.W. Bush, may be in deep doo-doo.
His speech will do little to change that. In fact, his inept performance may further encourage his detractors to scorn and attack him.