Trump’s Baffling SOTU

Ken AshfordTrump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

On the whole, it was Trump’s best performance, but that is a VERY VERY low bar. The speech was fine — a lot of babble about his successes (although many of them misleading). He didn’t stray from the teleprompter too much. It was delivered like all his teleprompter speeches — slowly (he’s not a good reader) and as if he was reading for the first time. And to his credit, he didn’t wander off-script much.

He made promises that nobody expects him to keep. Curing AIDS. Curing child cancer. Things like that.

He praised successes that he didn’t earn. Like the economy. It’s good because of Obama. Trump only gets credit for not fucking it up too much. And it STILL benefits the wealthy (including his tax credit).

And as he praised himself on the economy, he . . . lied.

“The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office, and we are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.”

This is false.

The American economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018. Growth in Latvia and Poland was almost twice as fast. Same for China and India. Even the troubled Greek economy posted stronger growth. And a wide range of economic analysts estimate that the growth of the American economy slowed in the fourth quarter, and slowed even further in the first month of 2019.

He told many other falsehood or misleading statements too — too many to account here.

He took credit for halting war with North Korea, too:

“If I had not been elected President of the US, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.”

That got a small laugh.

The only thing he mentioned, for which he does get credit, is a start on criminal justice reform. But that was an outlier.

But let’s go to the start.

He started on a great note. “There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it,” he said in the speech’s earlier moments. “Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country.”


The problem, of course, is that Trump is a deeply flawed messenger on the whole “unity” thing. A pitch like this one — “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good” — could work if spoken by someone who, well, is not Trump.

Soon, however, came…. the line:

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Now, he said that first sentence as if it was to be something for Bartlett’s Book of Quotations. I mean, it rhymed! But just READ it — does it make sense?

I mean — yeah, if there is to be peace, there cannot be war. That’s true. So true it doesn’t even need to be said! But there can be peace and investigation. And there can be legislation and war. And there can be legislation and investigation. It’s just word salad!

And more importantly, it shows Trump’s mindset. It is, in essence, the perfect Trump line. Why? Because it shows how he conflates the country’s interest with his own self-serving interest. Even if he wanted to talk about the Mueller investigation in the State of The Union, it had place in that sentence. None at all. And its inclusion is just…. bizarre (I suspect that Trump put it in there himself).

Another moment involved the women. It was hard to miss the large number of Democratic women sitting together on the House floor wearing white in honor of the suffragette movement. And that group of women provided the most surprising — even for Trump — moment of the night.

In touting his economic successes, Trump delivered these lines:

“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women who have filled 58% of the newly created jobs last year”

And the women — almost exclusively Democrats — slapped five and hugged in celebration.

It clearly threw Trump off, because even though he was talking about employment in general, the women took the spotlight to celebrate how many women were “employed” in Congress.

“You weren’t supposed to do that,” Trump quipped, trying to take it ins stride. Fortunately for Trump, his next scripted line was in acknowledgement of the women in Congress. Even then, it really highlighted the difference between the parties — one side of the chamber was lousy with women (dressed in white) as well as young men of many colors; the other side was mostly old white guys. One side was tomorrow; the other side was yesterday. Yesterday cheered Trump, but Tomorrow was awesome and exciting.

But that made it stand out all the more when the old white guys didn’t cheer Trump. That happened too, now and then. In the cutaways to Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader was conspicuously restrained, even for him. The section on trade was, not surprisingly, poorly received by GOP members. The parts about pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria were met with crickets. And what struck me as most significant was the awkward near-silence with which Republicans greeted Trump’s bizarre warning that the economy would be jeopardized by “investigations.”

As for the wall, Trump did not hint at declaring a national emergency. He made his usual case for the wall, and in doing so, demonized most immigrants, painting them, through anecdotes, as members of MS-13 or human traffickers of women. It was crazy racist, but nothing new as far as Trump goes.

At one point, he even said, “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” That line apparently pissed off his Nazi followers on Twitter, but they have no need to worry. After all, Trump killed an immigration deal — one he had agreed to, and that would have given him his wall while protecting DREAMers — because it didn’t cut legal immigration to the country.

But without a threat of a national emergency, it seems like he has lost his bark on “the wall”. I’m sure it moved nobody’s position.

Another weird moment was when Trump acknowledged a survivor of the Tree of Life Temple shooting in Pittsburgh (11 dead) as well as a police officer who was shot several times. Awkward — in the sense that it was a mass shooting, and not a word of gun control. Huge elephant in the room.

Finally, there was red meat for conservatives. He championed the fight against abortion, which is hypocritical of him because without abortion, he would have more children (let’s be honest). And he took a swipe at “socialism” — clearly setting the stage for the fight in 2020 against his opponents who want to set the highest marginal tax rate to 70% (you know, like how it was when Dwight Eisenhower ran a “socialist” country — not!)

I missed the Democratic response by Stacey Abrams, but by all accounts it was good. She laid out a specific agenda, and articulated the world envisioned by progressives.

Oh, the photo of the night — when Nancy golf clapped Trump after his speech was over.