I’ll confess that, as usual, I didn’t stay up to watch the entire State of the Union address. (These things take place too late for someone who gets up at five in the morning.) So I had to catch the high and lowlights this morning on YouTube. For the most part, the majority of the speech was typical of SOTU addresses, albeit spiced up with Trump’s distinctive flair for self-promotion. The majority of the address focused on the actual state of the union which is pretty awesome by most conventional measures. The economy is booming (if you can ignore the exploding debt and deficit), with near-record employment levels across the board. Optimism about the economy is well above average. Illegal immigration is down and home ownership is up. Like his predecessors before him, Donald Trump took credit for the good times and there’s nothing wrong with that.
With the nuts and bolts of the speech out of the way, however, it was impossible to ignore the bizarre ending of the event. Ed posted the video of it last night… that moment when the President left the Speaker of the House hanging when she offered a handshake. She then dramatically tore up the speech she had just been handed. I’ve seen various reactions to this from both sides of the political divide this morning, but I’m left feeling rather hollow and taken aback.
Before going any further, allow me to just say that I get it. I’m not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Trump and Pelosi are more than simply political rivals with different agendas. They are enemies at this point. They’re at war. And each has given the other plenty of reasons to be ticked off.
But on the world stage during an annual ritual that’s embedded in our Constitution, is that really the time and place? Perhaps in the current political climate we should settle in for such displays. Perhaps. I noticed something that Peggy Noonan tweeted about the confrontation last night. It’s a rather apt description.
This is a big night, a cleaved down the middle night with no one trying to hide the divide. No ameliorating courtesy, no enacting of formal regard. Just the great divide, unhidden and out there for all the world to see.
— Peggy Noonan (@Peggynoonannyc) February 5, 2020
“This is a big night, a cleaved down the middle night with no one trying to hide the divide. No ameliorating courtesy, no enacting of formal regard. Just the great divide, unhidden and out there for all the world to see.”
Whether you want to boo or cheer for this development, I won’t be judging you. There’s always something to be said for honesty, I suppose. That confrontation was the reality of where we are today, with no false smiles or phony camaraderie. The relationship between the White House and the House Majority is, at this point, a knife fight. Perhaps “street brawl” would be a more apt description.
But does it have to be? Even in the midst of the most bitter divorce, after both the husband and wife have cheated on each other and busted up the furniture, they generally find a way to be at least a bit civil in front of the children. (Or at least they should.) Refusing to shake the extended hand of the Speaker is simply childish and vindictive, no matter how much she may have wronged you. Ripping up the official copy of the State of the Union address is equally childish and a violation of protocol and official record-keeping. Two of the most prominent leaders in the government of the United States were acting out a poorly written scene from an episode of the Ren & Stimpy Show.
I just don’t know. As I said, I understand the antipathy. Shaking the hand of the woman who just finished impeaching you on highly dubious grounds (at best) is a lot to ask. But when you’re the President of the United States, much is asked of you on a regular basis. And the Speaker of the House – a person well up on the list of presidential successors – is similarly expected to exhibit a certain amount of decorum. If either of them had managed to avoid their piece of the abrasive display, the other would have been left looking foolish and petty. But they both dove into the deep end of the caustic pool, so nobody came out looking like a winner.
We live in a highly partisan world now and there’s probably no path back from this state of affairs on the horizon. I’m just not sure we should be celebrating that fact when it plays out on the world stage, no matter how honest and transparent it was. But maybe that’s just me.