As Pelosi’s defenders will be quick to point out, however, we have never had a president more careless, if not eager, to smash just about every other symbol of comity and civility he can find. When Clinton spoke to Congress—the legislative body that had just impeached him—he began by congratulating the new (Republican) speaker and said: “Mr. Speaker, at your swearing-in, you asked us all to work together in a spirit of civility and bipartisanship. Mr. Speaker, let’s do exactly that.”
It is no exaggeration to say that for this president, there is no occasion when civility and bipartisanship are not excess weight to be thrown over the side. In his first days in office, he used a CIA ceremony honoring fallen agents to brag about the election. When he spoke to U.S. troops overseas recently, he attacked Democrats. He has assailed institutions from his own Justice Department to the FBI to the press by attacking their honesty and their patriotism. And in so doing, he has managed to engender among his critics the belief that he is not just wrong on policy, but—in the words of former CIA Director John Brennan—a clear and present danger to our national security.
But the issue with the address in 2019 goes beyond Trump.