In the run-up to the 2018 State of the Union address, we were told that the president wanted to set aside partisan disagreements and reach across party lines, appealing to the need for national unity. He did mention that aspiration more than once in his long, long speech Tuesday night — but it was entirely disconnected from the substance of the speech, one of the most partisan SOTU addresses ever.
The first part of the speech was a chest-thumping paean to the claimed accomplishments of his administration and its congressional allies, including a wildly exaggerated boast that he had all but destroyed the Affordable Care Act. The forward-leaning portions of the speech were mostly appeals to support for the president’s most divisive policies, especially about immigration (which, of course, he described as a “bipartisan compromise,” even though it contains sharp reductions in legal immigration that many Republicans don’t even support). Despite the upbeat connotations of his New American Moment theme, Trump painted as dark and dystopian a picture of the country as he did in his famously grim inaugural address. We are, it seems, a nation besieged by the evil forces massing overseas, which were unleashed by Trump’s predecessors and political enemies.
Apparently, we must “fully fund our great military” — a chief point of contention in the ongoing budget negotiations. We can’t possibly tolerate the family-unification policies that have undergirded immigration policy since the 1960s. America just has to reverse foreign-aid policies dating back to World War II, because our traditional allies don’t agree with Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Yes: There were, scattered throughout the speech, a series of one-sentence, placeholding references to issues that might command some bipartisan support — job training, paid family leave, prison reform, and the Incredible Shrinking Infrastructure Initiative. But they were overmatched by the red meat tossed to the braying conservatives in the chamber: Trump’s gloating over keeping Guantánamo Bay open, the saber-rattling at North Korea and Iran, and — seemingly out of nowhere — an attack on civil-service protections.
But it’s hard to look at the speech as a whole and see any point of departure that would improve the prospects of progress in Congress on any legislation. Perhaps the federal government won’t shut down again this year, but if it does, Trump’s braggadocio tonight will have contributed to the bitterness. Now, let’s return to the regularly scheduled Republican efforts to destroy further inquiry into the connections between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Anyone uplifted by this speech will face a grim hangover tomorrow.