The only good thing about Trump’s State of the Union is that its shelf life will be short. Larger political realities will take center stage — the shutdown, the border wall, a probable declaration of a national emergency, congressional investigations, the Mueller report, etc. — and very quickly eclipse in the public mind his SOTU speech.
I’m not surprised that some of the polling registers a positive response to the speech. Lots of people figure it could have been a lot worse. For these people any sign, no matter how small a break from Trumpian chaos and recklessness, is welcomed, albeit with fingers crossed and a nagging feeling that it won’t last even one or two news cycles. It shouldn’t be taken to mean that millions suddenly executed an about face in their attitude toward Trump last night.
Indeed, many watching surely found Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and misogynist lies, divisive demagogy, swipes at Democrats and the resistance movement, hyper nationalist rhetoric, credit taking for a recovering economy, and belligerent posture toward Venezuela and Iran distressing, even if not unexpected.
Notably absent in the speech was any mention of the shutdown or gun control. Climate change and the humanitarian crisis of immigrant children and their families at the border found no space in the speech. Health care and voting rights measures never appeared either. Steps to guarantee racial and gender equity were a no show. It was laughable when Trump claimed to be a strong advocate of gender equality.
What I found immediately worrying were two things. First the likelihood that he will declare a national crisis at the border and claim emergency powers. It’s wrong on its face, authoritarian in fact, and built on a dense tissue of lies and racist demagogy. What is more, this constitutional usurpation of power would set a precedent that a besieged Trump could easily invoke in other circumstances to fend off growing and immediate challenges to his presidency.
The other worrisome thing is the danger that Trump and his bellicose team will declare war on Venezuela and Iran to rally the country around him and then to use the leverage gained for much same purpose as a declaration of emergency powers at the border, that is, to silence his critics and shutdown the ongoing investigations of him and his administration. Even though Trump insisted last night that we don’t need wars or investigations, he actually may believe that war against Venezuela and Iran could, among other things, serve him well at this juncture in his efforts to torpedo the cascading and imminent investigations that could end in his impeachment, indictment, and complete loss of legitimacy. ,
If the night had some saving grace, it was Democratic women — many just elected — dressed in white in the House chamber and then the speech of Stacey Abrams that came later. Speaking for the Democratic Party and from personal experience, she lifted people up, appealed to their best angels, and addressed the most pressing problems facing the country, while mincing no words when it came to Trump and his shutdown. I’m sure we will hear much more from her as well as the other women who are transforming the Democratic Party and the country in a progressive, egalitarian direction.