The occasion compels some decorous nonsense about “unity” so Trump is stuck with the theme, but when was the last time it was less true at a SOTU than it is tonight? Maybe during the doldrums of Dubya’s second term?
We just got through with the longest shutdown in history. The stalemate over the border that drove that shutdown is still unresolved. The president’s threatening to blow up Democrats’ leverage in negotiations by issuing an emergency decree, which may in turn lead his own party to rebuke him in the Senate. This is all taking place amid a clamor among the opposition to impeach him, with party leaders in the House drawing up subpoenas to air his dirty laundry. Meanwhile, we may be weeks or days away from Mueller issuing his report, which could explode American politics depending upon how damning it is. On top of that, each party has splintered a bit lately: Some of Trump’s loyal fans within the GOP saw their regard for him drop during the shutdown while Democrats are preparing to duke it out for the next year over whether the next nominee should be a socialist or a garden-variety liberal. Whatever the outcome of their primary, we’re probably headed for the nastiest presidential race in modern American history.
Oh, and just to further embitter everyone, the other party is currently pushing in New York and Virginia to legalize abortion up to the moment of — or maybe even after — birth.
The state of our union is not unified. In fact, as a sort of meta-commentary on how fractured it is, Chuck Schumer mocked Trump this morning for preparing a speech around the theme of unity — leading POTUS to roundhouse him on Twitter:
Mmmm, that’s good unity. The “unity” theme is a hint about what not to expect this evening, though. For starters, Trump’s probably not going to threaten an emergency declaration to build the wall, however much that reality may loom over his discussion of a prospective immigration deal. He’ll mention abortion but likely not be too specific or make a spectacle of Ralph Northam’s comments. He’ll offer a conciliatory gesture to Pelosi, probably acknowledging up front that she’s a living testament to how far women have advanced in U.S. politics. And of course he’ll focus on areas of potential common ground between Democrats and Republicans which everyone recognizes but which never actually lead to compromise, starting with infrastructure funding.
There are two reasons to watch. One: Trump being Trump, there’s a chance that he’ll go off, attacking Dems viciously and extinguishing whatever tiny chance for compromise remained over the rest of his term. Two: He could surprise us in a different way and make real news by floating a serious immigration proposal that catches Democrats off-guard and piques their interest. That’s unlikely since it would mean going big on a DREAM amnesty, but again — Trump is Trump. You never know when, and in what direction, a loose cannon might go off.
He’s usually good about sticking to the script with the SOTU. Bet on boredom, as not even a showman as formidable as him can likely resist the huge gravitational pull of sucky tedium generated by the State of the Union. Speaking of showmanship, though, congratulations to him for inviting ex-con Matthew Charles to attend tonight’s speech. That’s a superb choice, both as a symbolic gesture of welcoming a former prisoner back into society and as a way to tout the passage of criminal justice reform. His decision to invite sixth-grader Joshua Trump, who’s been bullied for his last name, is also big-hearted, although I regrettably sort of agree with Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon: Joshua’s appearance at the SOTU is only going to make the bullying worse, right? Oh well. It’s on his parents to let him attend, not on POTUS.