This is the sort of thing that would have caused a freakout on the right if Obama had said it, even semi-jokingly as Trump does here. But it’s also the sort of thing that would have caused a freakout on the left if Bush had said it, and I don’t think we’re going to see a freakout this time. After a year and change of Trump in office, the commentariat has learned to take him, in the famous formulation of the 2016 campaign, neither particularly seriously nor literally. In fact, ignore the dopey rhetorical grenade about treason that he throws half-heartedly and he’s making a point that much of the country would sympathize with, that the “negative partisanship” that rules our age has turned increasingly bitter and nihilistic. He’s just … not the right guy to be making that point, since the entire argument to wary righties for lining up behind him in the fall of 2016 was negative partisanship. His campaign slogan might as well have been “Trump 2016: Hillary’s even worse.”
He’s also not the right guy to be making that point because, let’s face it, his political persona is that of a strongman authoritarian. And it’s never not weird when a strongman starts calling his enemies traitors and un-American, however offhandedly.
As for the Democrats, he’s right that it was bad form but we’ve gotta remember: Everything about the State of the Union involves performance and grandstanding, especially for congressional backbenchers who are in the room watching and hoping to make the most of a quick appearance on camera by pandering to the gigantic viewing audience at home. May I quote myself?
Other Democrats are bringing DREAMers as guests, some are bringing sexual assault victims, Joe Kennedy is bringing a transgender soldier — even Bill Nye, a stupid person’s idea of a science expert, will be there (as the guest of a Republican!). SOTU stuntcasting via the guestlist is an especially feeble way to pander to key constituencies, prove one’s ideological virtue, medal in the Victim Olympics, and generally mug for the cameras on a night when the news media is entirely focused on the Capitol. It’s another reminder that no one really cares what’s being *said* at the event, only about the opportunity to see and be seen at it. The president gets camera time, the tools who elbow each other out of the way along the aisles to shake his hand get camera time, and the dopes bringing Heroes of the #Resistance as guests get camera time. It’s the polar opposite of what a written SOTU would be — a serious no-bells-or-whistles message, all content.
Did Democrats who refused to clap for good news about black and Hispanic unemployment mean to signal disapproval of more jobs for black and Hispanics? Probably they meant to signal disapproval of Trump himself and how he’s handled other issues bearing on blacks and Hispanics, sending the message that he shouldn’t be allowed to claim credit for improvements to their lives after praising the very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville or refusing to give Democrats a DREAM amnesty in exchange for nothing. At an even more basic level, they’re trying to appease diehard Democratic Trump-haters who are watching on TV at home by refusing to show any approbation of the president, even when he’s discussing something that’s objectively good. Reaction at the SOTU is a performance, as is the soundbite below from Trump. How seriously should we take any of it?
If you want to see Dems really act un-American, wait a week or two for a few more giant selloffs on Wall Street. A strange tension will overtake them as the country’s 401k’s start to smolder, knowing that (a) this is objectively bad for average people, especially people near retirement, and (b) this is objectively good for Democrats’ midterm chances *and* gives them an almost unparalleled opportunity to dunk on Trump for having taken so much credit for the Dow’s supernova over the past year.
Exit question: We’re lucky Democrats are above accusing their opponents of being un-American and treasonous, aren’t we?