Having been forced to delay his State of the Union address by a government shutdown that he precipitated, President Donald Trump seemed as though he might never yield the podium once he got his chance Tuesday night.
In a speech that reflected endurance if not eloquence, Trump offered a thin sheen of “unity” over large helpings of the same old polarizing demagoguery.
“We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions,” Trump declared. If those were truly his goals, he would have committed not to declare a phony state of emergency in order to build his wall against congressional wishes. He would not have recycled at great length his inflammatory and false portrayal of a “tremendous onslaught” of illegal immigrants.
He would not have slandered the governor of Virginia as having pledged to “execute” newborn babies, and he would not have made the absurd and nervous-sounding claim that “ridiculous partisan investigations” threaten national prosperity and security.
Trump fairly saluted the one substantial bipartisan accomplishment of his presidency, passage of criminal-justice reform. He also mentioned areas of possible future bipartisan agreement, such as investing in the country’s roads, rails and airports and lowering prescription drug prices. Yet even in these areas there will be no progress without serious, nitty-gritty legislating and compromise.
Congress also could try to make progress on the nation’s greatest challenges, which Trump neglected in his speech as in his governing.
He made no mention of climate change, even as the planet’s prospects grow ever more alarming. He said nothing about rising wealth inequality, which his tax reform exacerbated. Nor did he discuss the country’s rapidly rising debt, which Trump also has worsened.
If the health of the union is to improve over the coming year, Congress will have to take the initiative.