This is who he is, who he was, and ever shall be.
In the State of the Union speech we saw once more the man in full who was surprisingly and controversially elected to the presidency. President Trump may be shrouded in the power and privilege of his office but he is diminished by historic unpopularity, buffeted by scandal and struggling in the recent repudiation of the midterm election.
Much of the rhetoric was expected. There was fear mongering, shallow bravado, and recurrent waves of divisiveness. That it was delivered from a teleprompter with more competence than customary does not diminish the harshness of the rhetoric. There were moments where he bowed to more unifying language, but how many people think Trump believes what he says? And tomorrow one can expect Trump unmoored will return to Twitter.
Overshadowing the speech was a threat that, in the President’s mind, progress demands an end to investigations. If that was a trial balloon, it is one made of lead. And yet, lest anyone see distance between the man at the podium and the Republican lawmakers, the standing ovations he received were of a frequency and precision I have rarely seen by either party to previous State of the Unions.
In the end, I doubt many if any minds were swayed. How many even watched? Does it matter? Do we care?
Previous presidents facing political headwinds have used this speech to tack towards the center, to at least play lip service to the unity of our nation and the worth of those on the other side of the aisle. The President, by instinct, necessity or psychology, only knows the high stakes of doubling down no matter the hand. We’ve seen how that instinct ended up in his casino businesses. But here we have no choice but to watch him play his cards, no matter how ruinous.
Yet the power of the presidency, as we are seeing, has its limits. The opposition is riled and ready. No speech will change the battle lines and political calculus over the future and vision for our nation.
State of the Union speeches rarely last in the consciousness of the country. And one has a sense that this one is already being forgotten, or was never thought about in the first place.
News, analysis and opinion by Dan Rather