by Kate Harveston
There might be just one thing about Trump that progressives, neo-liberals, republicans and Nazis all agree on: the man speaks his mind. Whether that’s a feather in his cap or a notch against his character is your choice to make as a voter, but it’s fairly undeniable that Trump was elected almost exclusively because of his lack of rhetorical self-control. In every other respect, though, he is both a typical politician and a typical republican, since his policies are as cozy with the corporate-political power establishment as it’s possible to be.
If Trump had reigned in the flapping of his gums a little more on the campaign trail, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton might be president right now. Shock value is his only defining characteristic.
The presidency seems to wring out good intentions from all the folks who seek the job, no matter your platform. We’re not saying Trump has ever had a good intention in his life, but we definitely are saying the office has made him an even more dishonest person than he was before. His first State of the Union address was all the proof we need.
Chameleon in Chief
Chuck Todd made a solid point about Trump’s SOTU address that didn’t even have to touch on policy to be useful. The American television journalist and MSNBC host pointed out, correctly, that the speech reeked of inauthenticity. Teleprompter-friendly Trump is not the one who was sworn in last year, nor the one his dwindling fan base wants in the White House to do battle with the “globalists.”
…But isn’t he? Remember the speech Trump gave that day, promising we’d all remember that dreary, rainy afternoon as the moment the American people would “own their destiny” again? That was a pep-rallying moment too, wasn’t it? “We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny,” Trump said that day.
Has that man been our president for even a moment since then? There’s no talk of destiny in his or republicans’ current plans for this country — just short-term gain. The swamp gets swampier. The surveillance state grows by the day.
The truth is, Trump almost always manages to behave himself, and make the right promises, just long enough to put on a convincing show. He’s president now because he convinced enough republicans and democrats that he would help them dismantle the corporate-political establishment.
The same goes for his Tweets: they’re just unfriendly enough to the ruling class to feel timely, and just crass enough to keep our interest, and yet just inscrutable enough that we all have to squabble over whether or not he knows he retweets white supremacists and literal Klansmen on a regular basis. It’s the least coherent and most unselfconscious presidency we’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, in some key ways, this speech definitely did prove that politics in America is back to business as usual.
The State of the Union Address is, traditionally, an opportunity for our country’s figurehead to cherry-pick encouraging-sounding jobs numbers and economic data to make their administration sound consequential and impressive. As a result, most of our presidents have borne the failures, as well as enjoyed the successes, of their predecessor’s policymaking.
Nothing has changed about the partisan tick-tock of good-cop bad-cop. Trump took to the stage and predictably took credit for rising job creation, a shrinking unemployment rate and, quite literally, a measurable downtick in African American unemployment, as though that’s ever been on his radar. Let’s be clear: the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who attended the SOTU instead of boycotting it did so to, in their words, “stare racism in the face.”
The Pageant Continues
Chuck Todd is right that Trump’s first SOTU had a problem with inauthenticity. It wasn’t ad-libbing, free-wheeling, rival-baiting Trump. But that authenticity has been Donald Trump’s big problem for his entire adult life. He’s been lying to the public, and probably to himself, for decades on end. Do any of us really think his problem with “inauthenticity” is only just now catching up with him?
The big issue with this speech isn’t what he said or didn’t say — imagine a world leader addressing the globe after his first year without speaking a word about climate change! — but rather, that American politics can churn out a leader who so regularly and unrepentantly contradicts himself.
Trump promised a “New American Moment” and paid vague lip service to bipartisanship, but this is still a man who owes his business partners from years ago untold millions of dollars. His list of broken promises is as long as both your arms. You’re right to be disappointed this SOTU didn’t successfully nudge us toward some great social awakening — but you have no reason to be surprised.
In America, unfortunately, the quality of the message depends on the quality of the messenger. So, yeah, Trump’s presidency serves bipartisanship insofar as it forces us to agree how pointless partisanship is. Unfortunately, decrying rancor in government is useless when one regularly refuses to rise above it.