The State Of The Union Address Is Unnecessary and Irrelevant

Do yourself a favor and skip the State Of The Union Address tonight. You won't be missing anything important.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re no doubt aware that tonight President Trump will deliver the first State Of The Union of his Presidency to a Joint Session of Congress. This won’t be the first time Trump addressed a joint session, of course. He did that in February of last year shortly after taking office, a speech which James Joyner aptly described as both his best and worst speech up to that point. That speech, however, was not officially considered a State Of The Union even though many people erroneously referred to it as such. As has been the case in the past, the cable news outlets, as well as pundits in the blogosphere have already been engaged in the usual hype of the speech, and both CNN and MSNBC have been running countdown clocks to the start of the speech at 9:00 pm, which most of the news channels beginning their “preview” coverage as early as 5;00 pm today. This means that they’ll spend four hours talking about what the President will talk about it and then, after the speech is over they’ll spend another four or five hours, not to mention what will likely amount to the next several days, talking about what the President did talk about. It’s as inevitable and predictable as the ocean tides, with the difference being that the ocean tides can be calming and fun to watch while the annual American version of the Speech From The Throne,

In the end, though, the State Of The Union won’t mean much of anything in the long run. As I’ve noted before, and as other studies that have been conducted since I wrote that post, the address generally has almost no measurable impact on a President’s job approval regardless of how many people are watching. Typically what happens is that the President sees a slight jump in job approval in the immediate aftermath of the speech that quickly dissipates in a relatively short period of time. The policy goals that a President lays out in this speech, which will be feverishly discussed in the days to come, are ones that will most likely go unaddressed, especially given the fact that this is an election year and Congress will have its eyes focused on winning reelection and setting up issues to use as partisan battering rams in the election. And, inevitably in the case of this President, something will happen, most likely in the form of a Presidential tweet to bring whatever goodwill the speech may have generated to an end. As I said, it’s as predictable as the ebb and flow of the tides.

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit has a plea for the President that he sadly isn’t likely to follow through on:

Go back to the written statement to Congress. A long laundry-list speech of policy priorities can only hurt him by giving the opposition party a point of reference later for broken promises and failed initiatives. If he’s hellbent on having a big night all to himself on national television — this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, after all — he could have his cake and eat it too by sending Congress some anodyne written SOTU and then delivering a short (emphasis: short) primetime speech from the Rose Garden about whatever he wants to talk about. Or better yet, have a 30-minute press conference. Both of those ideas are waaaay riskier for him politically than an SOTU speech would be, but I don’t care. “End the SOTU” isn’t an idea that comes from any feeling, positive or negative, about Trump. It comes from the fact that no matter who’s in the White House the SOTU is garbage and will forever garbage be.


But Trump will probably keep the tradition, partly because he believes that he’s his own best messenger and this is a rare moment when he gets to speak directly to a national audience and partly because, uniquely among presidents, the media’s expectations for him are set so low that he almost can’t help but overperform. To watch non-Fox cable news on any given day, you’d come away thinking at best that Trump is an imbecile and at worst that he’s already in the throes of advanced dementia. Watching him get through an hourlong scripted speech is a small reminder to the public that that’s nonsense. That may be reason enough for him to do it, but the practice should end. Soon. Please.

I’ve made this argument in several posts over the years myself, as you can see in examples here, here, and here. Contrary to what many Americans may think and what several cable news hosts have already stated on the air, there is no requirement in the Constitution that the President deliver a State of the Union Address to Congress, or that it be done annually. The only requirement is found in Article II, Section 3, which states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” While it quickly became the tradition that a President would advise Congress of the state of the union and policy provisions he believes should be enacted on an annual basis as President Washington did, the idea of a formal address wasn’t the practice for a significant period of American history. From Thomas Jefferson to William Howard Taft, Presidents would satisfy their Constitutional duty by sending a written message to Congress addressing those issues, That tradition remained unbroken until Woodrow Wilson, whose Presidency saw the establishment of several bad precedents and bad decisions, opted to address Congress, a tradition that every President has followed since then. Even after Wilson’s decision, though, the State of the Union didn’t take on the air of importance it undeservedly has today until 1965 when Lyndon Johnson became the first President to have a State of the Union address televised on live television. With television now part of the tradition, the speech has taken on ever more over-inflated importance. The hype has only gotten worse since we started living in the world of a 365/24/7 news cycle thanks to cable news, the Internet, and political social media.

Doing away with a formal address would also go a long way toward stripping the American Presidency of the regal air that has surrounded it in recent decades. As Gene Healy pointed out in his highly recommended book The Cult Of The Presidency, the similarities between the spectacle of the State of the Union and the spectacle that surrounds the British monarch’s speech during the annual State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom are quite apparent. In both cases, you see a Head of State essentially dictating to the people what they, or their government, want to do in the coming year. That may be acceptable for a Constitutional Monarchy such as the United Kingdom, but it appears to be totally inappropriate for a Constitutional Republic such as the United States. Our President is not a King, and the less we treat him like one the healthier it will be for our political system and the state of the union as a whole.

So, let the President send Congress a letter. Instead, they can post it on the Internet for everyone to read and even post a video of Trump read the message if they want. Heck, let him deliver the whole thing on Twitter if he wants. Then people can debate for themselves what the President is proposing without having it force fed to them by the media.

As Allahpundit notes, Trump is unlikely to take the advice to opt to follow the Jeffersonian tradition of a written address for several reasons. For one thing, as he puts it, Trump really does believe that he’s his own best salesman and this speech gives him a chance to address the nation without the filter, or the on-the-spot fact-checking, that the media would ordinarily provide. Even if he did give a moment’s thought to skipping a formal address to Congress, his political advisers would be arguing against it for this reason and would likely tell Trump that he would be portrayed as weak by the media and his opponents, something this President in particular simply cannot abide. So, we’ll get the same address and the same outcome that we’ve gotten from pretty much every State of the Union in recent memory. The President will speak and, in an even more pointless and thankless exercise, the opposition will deliver its response, or in this case, responses, since there will be no less than five different responses including the “official” Democratic response by Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, and the pundits and talking heads, will do their thing. As I said, it’s as predictable as the ebb and flow of the tides and even more boring and less pointless.

As for me, I’ll be following my own tradition. As I said in a comment to Dave Schuler’s post this morning wondering whether to watch the speech tonight, I haven’t watched a State Of The Union in more than ten years now, opting instead to read the transcript in the morning as well as catch the highlights on the cable news coverage. The pageantry is utterly ridiculous. The speech is always over-hyped in terms of what it means going forward. Finally, the bar is typically set low enough that all any President has to do is not get up there and sound like a blithering idiot and even their harshest critic will be saying how “Presidential” they were. In Trump’s case, expectations will be so low that he’ll be lauded as long as he doesn’t get up there and start throwing French Friest out of a McDonalds take-out bag at Nancy Pelosi.

So, regardless of what Wolf Blitzer, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow or whoever tells you, tonight’s speech not only isn’t very important, but it’s utterly pointless and certainly not essential enough that you should feel obligated to waste an hour or more of your time.  Have some sympathy for your sanity and skip it. Watch a good movie or something.  Watch something on Netflix. Given the political tone of the night, Veep, House of Cards or The West Wing would certainly be appropriate or just enjoy a fine adult beverage. Go for a walk (unless it’s just too freaking cold for that). Anything. Trust me, you won’t be missing a thing. It will be a better use of time than watching the annual Speech From The Throne.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Congress, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    The State Of The Union Address Is Unnecessary and Irrelevant

    Well it’s certainly rendered irrelevant under this buffoon, who will prattle on for an hour and a half and barely tell the truth about anything.
    Here’s the ultimate State of The Union Drinking Game; don’t watch the State of the Union, and just drink.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    There are things you can’t get from reading a transcript. For example, there are paralinguistic features of communications, e.g. prosody, tempo, expression, fluency, etc. that aren’t reproduced in transcriptions. That’s why I’ve frequently advised viewing SOTUs on Youtube with the sound turned off.

    You also can’t read the mood, something that’s hard to get even if you watch it live.

  3. @Dave Schuler:

    In that case, there are the inevitable excerpt videos that will be shown on television and available online. One can even choose to watch the entire speech via YouTube at a later date if one chooses.

  4. OTB lapdogs says:

    You Lap dogs are going to lap…MAGA 2020

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @OTB lapdogs:
    I don’t think you understand what ‘lap dog’ means. It does not mean that they lap. It means that they sit in your lap.

    Alternate: purse poodle. As in, “Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s purse poodle.”

    Now go away again.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    This is a perennial for Doug, like when Art Buchwald’s piece explaining Thanksgiving to the French would run every year.

    Doug is wrong, Dave is right.

    That said, I’ll read the post-game analysis. It’s literally, physically nauseating to me to see this treasonous, criminal pig grunting in front of the nation, standing where great men have stood. He’s the living symbol of national decline.

  7. OTB lap dogs says:

    OH asshat you are still here? Nothing better to do these days?
    Get right up there and sit in Doug’s lap…I am sure he would love that.

    MAGA bitches

    It is the high of comedy to hear

    The State Of The Union Address Is Unnecessary and Irrelevant

    from you guys… just picture it… if cankles was going to delivery the state of the union tonight….LOL!!!! This article wouldn’t have been even a thought in a Lapdog’s small mind.

  8. CSK says:

    Geez, I thought a “Lap dog” was a husky.

  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @OTB lapdogs:
    I see we have a new dupe trolling around.

    MAGA 2020

    Many Are Getting Arrested 2020

  10. SKI says:

    Fully agree that it is unnecessary but irrelevant?

    It is a prime time address by the President of the United States and dominates news cycles both in advance and afterwards.

    It routinely has set out a legislative agenda that defines the contours of the political skirmishing for the upcoming year (or years). Examples from prior SOTUs: FDR’s “Four Freedoms” and “Second Bill of Rights”, Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, LBJ’s “Domino Theory”, Clinton’s “End of Big Government” & GWB’s “Axis of Evil”. If we include the pre-live address period you have to include the Monroe Doctrine and Lincoln’s 1862 address.

    You have a strange definition of irrelevant….

  11. Tyrell says:

    The evolving and changing information process has effectively ended the political impact of the “State of the Union”. Most people no longer watch it and the only people who talk about it are the news media who obsess over that kind of thing now. There is a saturation of political news* on the news stations, with occasional coverage of weather, earthquakes, foreign events, financial, health-fitness, tech, and science.
    *Most of it is sensationalism and opinion, with the commentators hollering at and berating guests.
    I go to news sources that have interesting, thoughtful news subjects.
    Have any of the main news networks given and in-depth coverage of the the upcoming super blue-red moon show? An event almost as spectacular as the eclipse?

  12. Just 'nutha... says:

    “Or better yet, have a 30-minute press conference. Both of those ideas are waaaay riskier for him politically than an SOTU speech…”

    Yeah, risking Trump going off-script is always exciting, but I doubt that he’s likely to take the advice of someone with the pen name “Allahpundit” now, is he?

  13. @michael reynolds:

    This is a perennial for Doug, like when Art Buchwald’s piece explaining Thanksgiving to the French would run every year.

    Actually, I haven’t written a post like this since 2015. In any case, whether you watch or not is your choice. Personally speaking, if Trump were to follow Allahpundit’s advice and break the absurd tradition that Wilson started it would be one thing he did that I’d applaud loudly. The SOTU is a waste of time.

  14. Kathy says:

    In Mexico we have something similar called “Informe de Gobierno” (Literally “Government Report”). Until sometime in the 90s, it was delivered in the morning, and it was an official day off for schools and most businesses. On the downside, all TV channels had to carry it (many cable channels as well).

    I don’t know if all TV channels have to carry it, but it’s no longer a day off, so it’s completely worthless now.

    Oh, also in the 90s and early 2000s, opposition politicians in the Congress would interrupt El Presidente with epithets, others displayed signs by the pulpit, some walked out. And remarkably it never once got violent.

    Maybe next year we can loan you some retired Deputies to yell invective at Trump (too late this year). Mexican curses are stronger and less bodily-function-based than their American versions.

  15. @Kathy:

    opposition politicians in the Congress would interrupt El Presidente with epithets, others displayed signs by the pulpit, some walked out

    See now if that were allowed during the SOTU I might actually watch!!!

  16. Tyrell says:

    @Kathy: The talk tomorrow at the coffee shops and convenience stores will be of the basketball scores, weather, new cars, racing, guns, and home repairs.
    I would like to see the president announce plans for a mideast summit, an end to th Afghan military campaign, plans to rebuild the highway and electrical grid infrastructure, an ambitious energy research center the scale of the Pentagon. Bold measures that will help and excite everyone.
    What happened to Joe Biden’s idea to combat cancer?

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    It’s “Must Miss” TV …

  18. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Sort of off-topic: did anybody else see that the Trump campaign is using the SOTU to fundraise?

    I mean directly. They’re selling “see your name on the livestream of the SOTU” packages to raise money.

    That should put to rest any assertions that this clown is interested in anything beyond monetizing the presidency.

  19. They Saved Nixon's Brain says:

    @OTB lap dogs:..Spiro…Spiro Agnew*? Is that you?

    I apologize for lying to you.
    I promise I won’t deceive you except in matters of this sort.

    *Tricky Dick’s VP. Resigned in disgrace October 10, 1973.

  20. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:


    “see your name on the livestream of the SOTU”

    I saw that…is anyone on the planet tackier than this man?

    I’ve been meaning to ask you; in your previous dealings with Donnie, was he as blithely unaware of actual details of his “deals” as he is of policy details?

  21. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Even that gets old after a while. Especially when the president merely stands there, silent, and lets the deputies tire themselves out. Salinas used to do that. He’d then ask “Are you through? Good. Where was I? Oh, yes. –built three hundred kilometers of new highways in the state of…”

  22. @HarvardLaw92:

    Something new, admittedly, but not much different from other fundraising gimmicks. Donors can only see their name if they watch the speech on Trump’s campaign website.

    Trump is unusual in that he basically started running for re-election almost as soon as he took office by setting up a Trump 2020 campaign committee and registering with the FEC. If it works, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other politicians do the same thing.

  23. Gustopher says:

    The State of the Union apparently now provides a basic spelling test for the administration…. which they failed.

    Trump hires the best people, though. I guess.

  24. MarkedMan says:

    Trump’s SOTU is especially worthless because what he says doesn’t represent his policies or priorities (he doesnt have any) or the Republican Party’s priorities (the real prioritities are not for discussion in front of the peasantsj, or even represent what he will say ten minutes after the speech is over.

    Truth be told, though, I also stopped watching all SOTU a couple of decades or so go because of the reasons Doug mentioned above. But there is one type of SOTU that I would listen to attentively: one that actually described the state of the union. Essentially, take category by category and give a fact based accounting of where it stands and which way the trend is going. “Infrastructure”: There are x million miles of federal roads, y of state and local. At any given time, this percentage is considered excellent, this percentage in need of repair, etc. Our electrical grid services x million people and they were without power for an average of y million person hours last year. This compares to the year before….

    You get the idea. Dry as dust. But useful. And if it was the tradition that Pres talked about these issues it would provide incentive to do something about them each year.

  25. JKB says:

    Well, if pundits really believed we should do away with the SOTU, then they would have been writing these pieces back on January 5th, not just 8 or so hours before actual speech. This is typical media. They write about an event, often advocating for or against it, but not early so people can support or oppose it, but as it is happening. Just chattering. Next year, Allapundit and Doug, if he’s of a mind, should make their plea early, perhaps even starting in November, when it is more than just chattering about an event of the day.

  26. JKB says:


    That invitation is from Congress. You know, the independent legislative branch. No doubt created by a Congressional intern from who graduated from or matriculating at one of our finest indoctrination centers.

  27. John430 says:

    @michael reynolds: It’s literally, physically nauseating to me to see this treasonous, criminal pig grunting in front of the nation, standing where great men have stood.

    Well, Mike: You can close your eyes and pretend it’s Obama or Hillary. That will make your masturbatory fantasies ever so much more enjoyable. Try the recently unearthed photo of a smiling Obama buddying with Farrakhan for an even bigger moment. Then we can talk about treasonous pigs.

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    No doubt created by a Congressional intern from who graduated from or matriculating at one of our finest indoctrination centers.

    Sentence Construction: FAIL

  29. gVOR08 says:

    I won’t be watching. Like @michael reynolds: I find the man, and his manner of speaking, repellent. Which is not to say the SOTU isn’t important. If he manages to read it off the teleprompter without drooling, or going off script and accidentally declaring war, a part of the supposedly liberal MSM will declare it “presidential”, a sign he’s growing into the job.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Trump is unusual in that he basically started running for re-election almost as soon as he took office by setting up a Trump 2020 campaign committee and registering with the FEC. If it works, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other politicians do the same thing.

    I don’t know when W formally set up his reelection campaign committee, but he and Rove were notorious for running a permanent campaign, “Everything for the base”. This is why Rove was named a Senior Advisor and sat in on policy meetings. The story was that if the meeting got close to a decision W would look to Cheney to nod that it was OK as policy and to Rove to nod that it was OK politics.

    Obama seemed well aware that the electorate has a short attention span and appeared to shift from governing mode to politicking mode about ten months ahead of the election.

  31. John430 says:

    @Kathy: Quiete lo sico, vieja.

  32. Brooklyn Dave says:

    @John430: Farrakan has always been a marginal figure limited to a small group of black extremists. His only real importance was being used as a tool to frighten older Fox viewers. As his presidency demonstrated, Obama never paid attention to any of Farrakan’s messages of hate. Somehow, though, you get “treason” out of a single photo of a State Senator with another American. You really should consider how ridiculous you look.

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @Brooklyn Dave: And Farrakan, or Jeremy Wright, never said anything that Jerry Falwell or Roy Moore and any of thousands of other Jeebus preachers haves said “God will punish Americans for their sins”.

  34. Just 'nutha... says:

    @John430: That was rude. Not unexpected, though. You should aim to be a better you.

  35. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you; in your previous dealings with Donnie, was he as blithely unaware of actual details of his “deals” as he is of policy details?

    He’s mediocre at best (and that’s being charitable) as a real estate developer. He was never the largest in NYC, either by sq footage or number of properties or by profitability – by a wide margin. Essentially the only property he really got right was Trump Tower, and that was more a case of a blind squirrel finding a nut. Everything else he’s ever touched has gone to sh*t in record time.

    His fanboys like to think of him in terms of Ford. Rockefeller. Mellon.

    In reality, he’s P. T. Barnum. His one abiding skillset is showmanship and self-promotion. Even that he picked up from his slumlord father. Nothing about the guy is genuine. All of it is gold paint on a t*rd.

  36. becca says:

    @John430: This sounds funny to me, coming from a guy who has fully embraced Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” theory of politics.

    Go figure…

  37. Kathy says:

    @Just ‘nutha…: Not just rude, but an astonishing display of ignorance of another language.

  38. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The difference is in how blatant they are about it.

  39. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: What the heck does it mean? Or rather, any idea what he was trying to say? I assume, given the source, it was an insult? Google translate threw up its hands.

  40. SKI says:

    Urban Dictionary approximated it as “Shut the F’ up, old lady/whore“.

    He is a real class act.

  41. John430 says:

    @SKI: Actually it does not say that. In Mexican-American street language it translates to” Shut your yap, old woman”

    @Kathy: Perhaps not spoken in formal Mexico City jargon but it sure makes a point here in south Texas. Then again my Tex-Mex didn’t get me far in Honduras and Guatemala either.

  42. Mister Bluster says:

    Shut your yap, old woman

    Just for you Johnny Zero. In a language we hope you will understand.

  43. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan: I think I know what he was trying to say (see SKI’s post), but what he typed was Trump-Grade gibberish.

    BTW “Trump-Grade” means something along the lines of “Being so proud of your ignorance, you show it off for everyone to see.” A good example is: “No one knew healthcare could be so complicated.”

  44. Kathy says:

    @John430: I don’t think it would make sense in illiterate Mexican Spanish either 🙂

  45. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Kathy: It CAN’T be ignorance of the language! He has a Mexican wife!! Haven’t you been paying attention??

  46. Kathy says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: Why would I pay attention?

  47. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I suppose that he doesn’t actually know what “sico” means on the street and has only his wife’s sanitized version of it to go by. (Frankly, I don’t know what it actually means either because Google Translate declined to translate it,) I had the same problem involving dictionaries when I read *Bless Me, Ultima* in grad school about “chingada.” My professor suggested that one had to know who “La Chingada” was to fully understand that it wasn’t quite the same as an f-bomb.

    It could also be that he simply doesn’t hear well (again, I have the same problem) and doesn’t really know what he’s saying and can’t say it accurately.

  48. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Good point. 30 seconds wasted in his case.

  49. Terrye Cravens says:

    @John430: I won’t be watching either. Trump makes me sick too. And I did not even vote for Hillary or Obama.

  50. Kathy says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: “Sico” is just gibberish. but there is or was a brand of condoms that used that term.”

    “Chingada” now, is a difficult term to explain. It does mean something like “f***d,” but more or less intense depending on usage, mood, intonation, context, etc. And some expressions like “hijo de la chingada,” just don’t translate well into English.

  51. Sleeping Dog says:

    Haven’t watched a state of the union address since the Clinton administration. Don’t plan to start now. Doug is right, a waste of time.

  52. MarkedMan says:

    Sitting here listening to good music and doing work I’m actually getting paid for, while my life watches the SOTU with earbuds in. Given that we are only ten minutes into the speach and she has already told me they are all “F*ing morons” three times, headphone-loud, I don’t think I’m missing anything.

  53. MarkedMan says:

    @John430: Yeah, John430, you just proved you are just another piece of Trump Trash.

  54. MarkedMan says:

    OK, fifteen minutes into the SOTU, my wife gave the trigger-finger-to-the-head motion and then told me, headphones-loud, that she was giving up on this moron and switching to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”.

    And I’m going back to work.

  55. HarvardLaw92 says:


    here in south Texas

    LOL, how did I know you’d end up being a Southerner … 🙄