The State of the Union address is always a starkly partisan affair no matter which party is in power. Every president seeks to praise their own accomplishments and lobby for their agenda. Trump is no exception, however, his attempt to present a theme of unity was laughably obtuse. There has never been a president who more directly and venomously attacked his ideological foes. And he did it with a noxious blend of seething rage and infantile petulance (video and transcript).
Trump himself highlighted the contradiction between his actions and his words by inviting a guest to the event who was the victim of bullying because of his name, which happened to be Joshua Trump. But it was pointed out by some astute Twitterers that there were other attendees who were also the victims of a bully who called them names. People like Pocahontas (Sen. Elizabeth Warren), Little Marco (Sen. Marco Rubio), Low IQ Maxine (Rep. Maxine Waters), and Adam Schitt (Rep. Adam Schiff), to name just few. Trump’s hypocrisy could not be more glaring and shameless.
Perhaps the most brazen exploitation of this (or any) State of the Union was Trump’s personal appeal to Congress, and any other legal authority who might be listening, to lay off of his criminal conduct. He explicitly called for an end to the investigations related to his conspiracy with Russia, obstruction of justice, and financial corruption:
“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way. We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.”
It was particularly self-serving for Trump to couch this appeal in a threat aimed at the nation’s economic well-being. He was essentially warning those seeking justice to back off or the country would suffer. Movie mobsters did the same thing when they told their victims that they “have a nice little shop there. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
But by inserting this admonition into his speech, Trump turned it into a legal pleading that was wholly inappropriate under the circumstances. The investigations into Trump’s activities are justified by the mountains of evidence that have already been compiled and disclosed. And the State of the Union is not the place to offer a defense or to disparage the legal entities who are just doing their jobs. That’s what courts and lawyers are for.
But Trump has been attacking law enforcement for months. He repeatedly refers to the investigations as a “Witch Hunt,” despite the fact that dozens of indictments and guilty pleas have already been obtained. The range of the investigations extend to Trump’s business (Trump Org), his now-defunct foundation, his 2016 campaign, his transition team, his inauguration, and his White House. Almost everything Trump touches is poisoned by corruption.
Trump’s remarks in this address actually make things worse, because he’s trying to intimidate people by directing threats at “peace and legislation” if these investigations are not halted. But in his own words, “It just doesn’t work that way.” And the theme of unity that he pretended to put forward is betrayed by his unseemly ultimatums.
In the end, this speech will have no effect on the nation going forward. Trump delivered a typically partisan screed that never tried to expand his base of support or reduce the divisiveness that he has single-handedly brought to a boiling point. This speech will be remembered only for Trump’s continuing advocacy for a border wall that most Americans oppose, and his begging for the investigations, that are the source of his constant fear, to be halted. And neither of those wishes will come true.