Wednesday, February 5, 2020

SOTU 2020-02-04

     I haven’t bothered to watch a State of the Union speech in real time in many years. They haven’t served their original purpose for a very long time – possibly since they were first instituted. But now that I’ve viewed yesterday evening’s speech by President Trump, I find myself wishing I’d stayed up to watch it.

     For those who have an interest, a historical digression. First, here’s the relevant segment of the Constitution:

     He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States. [Article II, Section 3]

     Article II, of course, is about the powers and responsibilities of the president. At the time of the Founding, the president was the only federal official whose service was continuous throughout his term in office. The two houses of Congress were intended and expected to be in session only a few weeks out of the year. This was in keeping with the “citizen-legislator” concept that prevailed at that time. Federal legislators were not expected to be professional politicians, but private citizens with significant private-sector responsibilities, from which they could not be absent for long periods. And indeed, that was the case for a few decades after the Constitution was ratified.

     Remember that in 1787, travel could proceed no faster than a sailboat or a man on horseback and Al Gore had not yet gotten around to inventing the Internet. Thus, the dissemination of America’s internal news was painfully slow – often conveyed by word-of-mouth in Eighteenth Century village marketplaces. But given the Constitution’s assignment of powers and responsibilities to the federal government, the Founders were largely unconcerned with internal news. Word of developments relevant to the federal government would arrive in the nation’s capital by sailing ship from Europe or the Caribbean. The president being our designated foreign-relations officer, such news would come to him. When Congress was next to convene, he would inform the legislature about what he had dealt with in their absence.

     The first State of the Union speech to get nationwide attention occurred long after the Founding: in 1913. Woodrow Wilson, ever eager to have the attention of the masses, delivered it to Congress in person for the first time since the administration of John Adams. (Thomas Jefferson discontinued it as a grandiose and monarchical practice, and instead sent his remarks to Congress in writing.) In 1922 Warren Harding delivered the first SOTU speech relayed by radio to listeners across the United States. Since then it has deteriorated from a message intended to inform Congress to a public celebration of the achievements and priorities of the party that holds the White House. Constitutionally speaking, it is no longer a useful practice.

     We who follow current events would not have been greatly surprised at President Trump’s recitation of his administration’s achievements. The vibrant economy, our greatly improved foreign-relations, our rebuilt military, the sharp reduction in illegal alien entries, and the slow but steady construction of the promised border wall are well known to anyone who keeps track of the news. But SOTU speeches also provide the president and opportunity to make mention of people and events of other kinds. Probably the most emotional element in last night’s speech was the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the ailing Rush Limbaugh, which First Lady Melania Trump put around his neck. Yet there were others, living and dead, whom President Trump took the opportunity to fete.

     Yet the most newsworthy aspects of the SOTU arose from the Capitol Hill Democrats. To call their attitudes and behavior sour and spiteful is to give them very faint coloration. Every shot of the assembly shows the Democrats resolutely refusing even to smile at the many excellent developments of which President Trump could boast. The sight of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripping up the copy of the speech, which the president is required by courtesy if not by law to give her, was the jewel in their sour-mouthed, sour-faced crown. It was the plainest of demonstrations that Trump’s success -- America’s success -- is anathema to them.

     Admitting to error is no one’s favorite pastime. It’s particularly galling to politicians. The Democrats have many errors – if errors they were in truth – to answer for. Having Donald Trump, whom they revile personally as well as ideologically, enumerate them to their faces was the bitterest medicine a politician can be fed.

     But it was time the Democrats were compelled to face their own record. Not that they’d ever admit that those failures were actually theirs, of course. It was all “Republican obstructionism” or “lack of cooperation from the private sector.” And the public was entitled to see the refutation of it in living color.

     In many ways a State of the Union speech in a year such as this is a campaign event. For the president, it’s an opportunity to speak to those who will vote in November about his achievements and intentions for his second term. For his co-partisans in Congress, it’s a reminder of what they should be talking about to their constituents. Nothing matters quite as much to a legislator standing for re-election as the support of a popular sitting president – and President Trump is more popular than any of his detractors can believe.

     While overconfidence would be unwise, I am pleased by the GOP’s prospects in November, especially as the party is now fully mobilized behind the president. Nothing about President Trump’s speech is more important than this: that the achievements he summarized move the nation to return him to office, and to equip him with solid majorities in both Houses of Congress.

     Make sure your Congressmen and Senators know it.

1 comment:


I've petitioned by Senators and Congresscritter for redress, but they're all "D" and in lockstep with TPTB.