Missing from the SOTU? Trust

Trump tied his fate to the country's, but Americans know better.

I’m happy to report I learned a few things enduring for your sake last night’s 90-minute State of the Union address. It wasn’t that Donald Trump had become presidential. It was a manic speech that managed also to be tedious. It ping-ponged between everything being great and everything being terrible. My neck still hurts.

(I mean, what’s the proper reaction to a speech that horrifies with images of dirty immigrant rapists while calling for an end to “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution, and [the] embrace [of] the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good”? I don’t know but Nancy Pelosi offered this.)

As I said, I learned something. First, that the president did not declare a national emergency with respect to the border. This was matter of intense focus here at the Editorial Board and elsewhere. Invoking a set of statutes permitting Trump to use the military to build a wall was seen as a viable exit from his self-made political crisis. He didn’t. We’ll see what happens after the government runs out of money next week.

Two, he did not threaten to close the government if the Congressional Democrats did not provide $5.7 billion in wall funding. That was either an oversight or he meant to take it option off the table. It’s sometimes hard to tell with him. What I can say is Mike Pence did not rule out shutdown. “I can't make that guarantee," he said, pointedly.

If the president can’t get a wall by shutting down the government (that would be another self-inflicted wound), and if he can’t get a wall by declaring a national emergency (the Republicans really don’t want him to go there), what then?

Well, this is a president who would very much like to remain president (because, as I’ve said, not being president puts him under immediate criminal scrutiny). The wall still animates the 40 percent or so of Americans who approval of the job he’s doing. Therefore, common sense would suggest he’ll make the wall a 2020 theme.

Another thing I learned is Trump is very worried about the Democrats investigating him, his administration and his family. “If there is going to be peace and legislation,” he said, “there cannot be war and investigation.” He could be saying nothing will get done if the Congress investigates him. Robert Speel knocked that canard down here. He could be tying, in the minds of his supporters, his fate with the country’s. The implication is whatever “bad thing” the Democrats do, they do to America.

The latter was met with groans among the Democrats, said Democratic Senator Chris Coons’ in a post-speech interview with Bloomberg TV. In those groans resides something important—the Democrats aren’t afraid of Trump. For that matter, neither are the Republicans. Remember this president takes more than he gives to his party, and even when he gives, as he did when he signed the GOP tax law, it’s not the Republicans who will suffer when middle-class tax filers start feeling pain.

It bears repeating: most people most of the time don’t know much about politics, don’t know they don’t know much about politics, or if they do know how much they don’t know, they don’t care. But all that changes after something concrete happens, as when middle-class tax filers realize that nearly everything Trump said about the historic tax code overhaul was a naked lie. Not only did it not create jobs or grow the economy. It gave billions back to billionaires while sending the country deeper in debt. More concretely, it raised taxes on lots and lots and lots of ordinary Republicans.

So even when the president vows to protect the country from the rising tide of socialism—as he said, “We were born free and we will stay free”—that must compete with what people know to be true about this president. Democratic socialism might not be so bad when the rich are stealing from people who earn an honest living. And there are good reasons the Democrats are investigating Trump, a big one being Russia.

So the more this president rails against socialism in the coming months, the more I’d expect the Democrats to bring up Russian sabotage of our republic. Not so much to foment hysteria, as leftist critics allege, but to remind voters that something is seriously wrong with this guy. For over two years, he’s told us to trust him.

Don’t.

—John Stoehr

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—JS

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A very special local event!

The Editorial Board is partnering with the New Haven Review and the Institute Library to bring writers and thinkers together to explore key issues in civic life.

We’re calling it Politics in Plain English.

(Of course!)

Our first event is titled “Everything You Wanted to Know about Impeachment, But Were Afraid to Ask.” Dan Freedman, Washington, D.C., national editor for Hearst newspapers will join Bill Scher, contributing editor for POLITICO Magazine, to examine the possibilities, prospects, and politics of Trump’s impeachment. 

Date: Tuesday, February 12.
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: 847 Chapel St., New Haven, Conn.
Cost: $10 suggested donation.
RSVP: click here.

If you live in the New York metro area, please come if you can.

I’d love to meet you!

—JS

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