The State of the Union: Disjointed and Disingenuous

JOHN WOOLLEY: Last Tuesday, President Trump delivered his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation after a postponement due to the recent government shutdown. As a result of the speech’s proximity to the month-long struggle over border wall funding, many viewed the address as an indicator of how President Trump would move forward from this high-profile defeat.

Some expected Trump to declare a national emergency mid-speech and attempt to use his emergency powers as president to bypass Congress and allocate funds toward his wall. Others believed President Trump would take this opportunity to present a compromise to the new Democratic-majority House to entice them into considering funding his project. What we saw on Tuesday was neither of those things.

President Trump’s State of the Union tried to straddle a nonexistent line between being unifying and threatening, and achieved nothing as a result. For much of the address, Trump chose to appeal to the center by delivering various statements denouncing the ferocious division that characterizes the modern political landscape. His line declaring that “we must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction,” received applause from both sides of the aisle, as it should have. Yet, it is impossible to take that message as a genuine call for unity when it comes from the mouth of a president who took the government’s budget hostage for over a month, all because of a policy disagreement.

Trump further undercut his own message of unity just a short while later in the speech by falsely accusing Democrats of advocating for open borders, fearmongering with imagery of MS-13 gang members, and hyperbolizing the impact of migrant caravans in the South. This whiplash was consistent throughout the speech, with Trump continually juxtaposing attempts at bipartisanship with the more familiar, blunt attacks against his political opposition.

To me, the defining line of the address was his brief acknowledgment of his own legal jeopardy under the independent Mueller investigation and Democratic congressional oversight. According to the president, “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.” In other words, Trump appeared to imply that he will only cooperate with Congress so long as he is shielded from the consequences of any potential wrongdoing uncovered by the 17 ongoing investigations into his political universe. If the president plans to hold the federal government, and thus the successful operation of the country, ransom in order to extract immunity from justice, then he cannot legitimately claim that he is working in good faith and has the country’s best interests at heart.

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John Woolley is an aspiring journalist, musician, and a staff writer for On the Record. He studies government in the College and is looking to pursue a career in politics.

Max Magid