Trump’s State of the Union: An uncertain trumpet
For all of President Donald Trump’s intentions to present himself as congenial to compromise with his Democratic critics, his State of the Union Address was familiar mix of falsehoods and insults toward the opposition, as well as overstatements of his achievements.
He was on sound ground in boasting of a strong economy, but he woefully exaggerated matters of national security. Particularly egregious was his claim that “if I had had he not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.”
Nothing was achieved in his Singapore meeting with Kim Un Jong that assured that the threat of a nuclear exchange with that communist regime was averted, despite concessions made that have unnerved our South Korean allies.
Trump announced he would be meeting Kim again in late February in Vietnam.
The president spent much of his 82-minute speech feeding applause lines to his Republican faithful in the chamber, who rose on cue as the adamantly opposed Democrats often remained seated, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Earlier she had engineered Trump’s humiliating defeat in seeking congressional funds to build his desired wall across the southern border. This time she sat contentedly as the president declined to broach a national emergency, a Trump theme during the federal shutdown, or any plan to have the U.S. military construct it.
That failure marked another rebuke to him, likely a result of Republican members of Congress warning him that such a move would invite strong judicial pushback on constitutional grounds, and that it would at the least result in delay and/or deadlock.
Attempting to accentuate the positive, Trump offered that “an economic miracle is taking place in the United States.” But then he turned negative, charging that “the only thing that can stop it are (sic) foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
The observation was a convoluted reference to his recent plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and Syria after 19 years of overseas battlefield commitments against terrorism.
The other reference was to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into crimes committed by Trump associates in the 2016 presidential campaign, including possible conspiracy with the Russian government to taint the election. House of Representative committees, under the control of the new Democratic majority have reinvigorated their own investigations of Trump associates and the Trump Organization, and the Justice Department in the Southern District of New York has been busy along similar lines. The address was the president’s first direct, public encounter with a newly divided Congress. His appeals for bipartisan cooperation brought predictably different responses on the two sides of the chamber.
The fresh crop of Democratic women, many of them (including Pelosi) dressed in white in the fashion of the female crusaders who fought more than a century ago for the right to vote, stood in sharp contrast to the sea of men’s business suits. Trump himself took notice, expressing rare envy for the positive reaction the women received in the hall.
As has become tradition for State of the Union affairs, Trump introduced special guests in the gallery who rose to be recognized, to the usual acclaim. Several were elderly World War II heroes who fought in defense of American and Western democracy. The choice was ironic, given Trump’s hostility to two of the stabilizing institutions to emerge in the postwar period, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.
The president’s veneer of calling for bipartisanship in Congress while clinging to his demand for a border wall reflects his discontent with the political change already in place in Washington.
His best hope now to save face in his losing faceoff with Pelosi is to cast any congressional support for patchwork repairs and additions to border barrier already existing as achieving his goal.
Together with his bald-faced lie that his vanity wall is already being built — with no evidence of it — such a claim may enable him to convince his faithful remnant of the electorate that he has not wound up on the losing side of this self-inflicted political fiasco, which no change of tone will offset.
Jules Witcover is a
nationally syndicated columnist.