SOTU Ends Pretense of Normalcy
The State of the Union is petulant.
In recent years, I have watched fewer and fewer Presidential addresses to the nation, finding them tedious exercises in self-aggrandizement filled with promises that wouldn’t be kept. That has especially been the case in this Administration, with a President who doesn’t feel compelled to even pretend to be bound by reality. Thus, I didn’t watch last night’s address.
It was, alas, worse than even my exceedingly low expectations. By all accounts, it was filled with bizarre half-truths, snipes at potential Democratic opponents, and oddly mean-spirited.
Moreover, neither the Speaker nor the President—nor most of the assembled Members of Congress—even bothered to pretend to follow the rules of decorum.
WaPo (“With chants, walkouts and a ripped-up speech, bitter partisanship dominates Trump’s State of the Union“):
He didn’t hurl insults, lead “Lock her up!” chants or stride onto the dais to the opening thrums of “God Bless the U.S.A.” blaring from speakers. But President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night amounted to a more subdued version of one of his raucous campaign rallies.
He boasted that his accomplishments were like nothing ever seen before, promoted divisive policies — even prompting audible boos at points — and added reality-show flourishes to the speech he delivered in the historic House chamber.
He goaded the Democrats, began the evening with an apparent snub of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and offered a boastful accounting of the previous three years that could easily double as the campaign promises he plans to deploy in the coming one.
And if Trump at least made a listless effort to channel some of the presidency’s soaring rhetorical rhythms, the lawmakers in the ornate chamber didn’t even pretend to try to rise above the bitter partisanship that has riven the presidency, Congress and the nation.
Republicans cheered divisive lines, some Democrats walked out while Trump spoke, and Pelosi punctuated the night by tearing up the president’s speech while standing over his left shoulder as he wrapped up his remarks.
“This is a big night, a cleaved down the middle night with no one trying to hide the divide,” tweeted Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist. “No ameliorating courtesy, no enacting of formal regard. Just the great divide, unbidden and out there for all the world to see.”
The president entered the House chamber to Republican cheers of “Four more years,” his party helping to set the tone for an address largely delivered as written, from the teleprompter, that nonetheless managed to strike slightly more restrained notes of his usual “Make America Great Again” rallying cry
NYT (“Trump and Pelosi Exchange Snubs at the State of the Union Address“):
For President Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday night, the State of the Union was hostile.
The mutual snubbing began the moment Mr. Trump walked into the House chamber and continued until he finished speaking, when Ms. Pelosi stood, an expression of vague disgust on her face, and tore up her printed copy of his speech — in full view of the television cameras, while Mr. Trump had his back turned.
On Tuesday night, the sour dynamic was on display from the start. When Mr. Trump stepped up to the rostrum in the House of Representatives and handed her his speech, Ms. Pelosi rose and extended her hand to shake his. Mr. Trump turned his back, and the speaker quickly withdrew her hand, appearing to shrug slightly and raise her eyebrows as if to say, “Well, I tried.”
Then Ms. Pelosi dealt Mr. Trump a slight of her own by omitting the customary laudatory words in her introduction of the president. Normally, she would have said, “I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.”
Instead, she said simply, “Members of Congress, the president of the United States.”
This is a national embarrassment.
Obviously, the pretense of civility has been slipping for quite some time. But Bill Clinton managed to give a State of the Union address in the immediate aftermath of the Monica Lewinski scandal breaking and another in between being impeached by the House and tried by the Senate. As hostile as the relationship between Clinton and the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans was, it never degenerated to this.
One hopes the next SOTU will be given by a more normal President. But I fear that this new low will become precedent rather than a one-off.