the national interest

The State of the Union Is Crooked

President Trump. Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Trump’s State of the Union speech was the first since Democrats assumed control of the House of Representatives. Hence it was also the first under a Congress that conducts real oversight over his scandal-ridden administration. Trump insisted he would deal with the Democratic Congress — but only if it stopped investigating him.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way!”

It is worth lingering over the utterly categorical nature of that statement. Trump did not decry partisan investigations, or excessive or duplicative investigations. He insisted Congress should not investigate his administration at all.

The threat reflects not only Trump’s assumption that he is entitled to the legal impunity the Republican Congress had afforded him. It also reflects his bizarre view of negotiations. Trump seems to have held onto his experience in business, in which he is typically dealing with counterparties who have (or think they have) something to gain from a deal. Democrats have no such incentive. The more they cooperate, the better Trump looks, and thus the easier time he has winning reelection.

Trump seems not to grasp this. He has intermittently dangled bipartisan cooperation before Democrats in the apparent belief it can bring them to heel.

Of course, what Trump cares about more than anything else is protecting himself and his family from scrutiny. They have been conducting covert business deals that enable them to profit from Trump’s candidacy, and then his office. Trump was dealing secretly with Russia during the campaign; his inauguration spent massive and as-yet-unaccounted sums; and he is plotting legal warfare to prevent his tax returns from becoming visible to Congress. Trump’s crooked tie is a synecdoche for his presidency.

Trump’s demand that progress on what Trump describes as the people’s vital business be contingent on Congress halting all investigations is a confession of his true priorities. It’s fitting that his State of the Union address is a paean to the abuse of power.

The State of the Union Is Crooked