By Ken Trainor
I watched President Trump's first State of the Union (SOTU) address last week. A lot of people spared themselves the ordeal, but you never know — it might be his last.
As I've always said when discussing Trump, it's not about politics. It's about psychology. Whether you support him or not, I think we can all agree on one thing: Donald Trump is an extraordinarily annoying human being. As he warms to the standing ovation from the Republicans, he becomes even cockier than usual. Cocky on top of his pompous pompadour on top of an iceberg of insecurity is something to behold.
The camera pans to the gallery to show First Lady Melania, who doesn't exactly look thrilled to be here.
The Republicans, however, are applauding like there's no tomorrow. They can't stop clapping. Neither can the Cheerleader-in-Chief, whose self-applause is picked up by the mic: POP, POP, POP, POP, POP, POP, POP. This goes on throughout the third longest speech in SOTU history. The Democrats, meanwhile, look like high school students in the back row who don't believe a single word coming out of the mouth of the teacher, their scathing indictment handed down with sullen stares and stony silence.
"The state of the union is … disunion!"
Trump doesn't say that, of course, not in so many words, but that's the real story.
His lips curl back from his very white teeth, forming an almost rectangular sneer. He cocks his head, leans in to the mic, enunciating in exaggerated fashion as if, speaking as slowly and clearly as possible, he'll finally penetrate the thick skulls of his detractors. He opens his mouth, but what pours out is attitude. He is nothing if not pent up. When he really wants to drive home a point, he touches his index finger to the tip of his thumb while the other three fingers splay like a peacock's feathers trying to intimidate a rival. He looks and sounds like a Mafia don delivering an ultimatum. Everything, in fact, is ultimate: "tremendous," "greatest," "best," "most beautiful," "terrific," "incredible." Along with obstruction of justice, he could be indicted for hyperbole.
For most of the speech his head swivels toward the Republican side of the chamber, seeking the audience that adores him. Several times per minute, Republicans leap from their seats, as if jerked by marionette strings, roaring their approval. They must have had sore knees the next day.
Occasionally, he turns to the Democratic side, but the sight of so much disapproval quickly drives him back to his base. In the few instances where he makes vague references to something the opposition might actually approve of — family leave, promising to bring down the costs of prescription drugs, the need for prison reform — he extends his hands in their direction as if daring them, "Do you love me now?" A few of the Democrats, probably the ones in tight re-election races, clap and even stand from time to time. Bernie Sanders is seen barely touching his hands together at one point. Cory Booker stares daggers. Mostly they just roll their eyes. When you have zero credibility, why should the opposition dignify anything with a reaction?
But he's too busy applauding for himself to notice. POP, POP, POP, POP, POP!
The Clapper-in-Chief offers a 12-year path to citizenship for DACA dreamers (12 years! With stringent requirements, of course), but only in return for his beloved border wall, creating a "merit-based" immigration system, and ending "chain migration" and the "visa lottery." The four pillars of immigration reform, he calls it — three for him, one for the Democrats. That's his idea of compromise. He pronounces that "fair." POP, POP, POP, POP! The Democrats boo.
Trump's speech is a litany of mostly phony "achievements" (see FactCheck.org) and conservative clichés: We love our flag more than you do (though not what it symbolizes). God and faith are our foundation (No evidence of that here). "Where there's a mountain, Americans climb it" (Is this a good thing?). "Americans are dreamers, too" (He means to be sarcastic, but inadvertently says something true. We're all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, after all).
Smug, snide, sneering, specious, supercilious, and shameless, his bombast is punctuated, and partly redeemed, by pathos — praising the heroism and/or exploiting the pain of ordinary Americans in the gallery in order to justify his divisive policies.
But the invited guests also help underscore a point he did not make: that the greatness of America already exists and has existed for a very long time, that good citizenship and love of country were not invented on his watch, and it can be found on both sides of the great cultural divide.
He could have said that, but he didn't.
Instead, he sounds like a guy with a huge chip on his shoulder, axes to grind, scores to settle, a bundle of resentments because the world won't give him the respect he thinks he deserves but hasn't earned.
When he finally stops, the Democrats clear out before he can even make it up the aisle.
The SOTU is beginning to resemble the raucous setting of Britain's Parliament. Well, at least that's more honest. Some feel Barack Obama, an emotionally mature person, failed as president because he presented a vision of a united country but couldn't bring us together. Donald Trump isn't emotionally mature enough to unite the warring factions in his own chaotic psyche, much less the country.
So this is who we are, the Divided States of America.
Maybe we just need to come to terms with that.
If you didn't tune in, you missed one hell of a speech — by Rep. Joseph Kennedy, who delivered the Democratic response. I put it in the same class as Obama's 2004 keynote address. If you want to hear a real speech, you can find it online.
Answer Book 2017
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.
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