There’s not much a political party out of the White House and lacking majorities in the Senate and House can do to challenge the President’s State of the Union Address in real time. But, stewing in silence should not be an option, while the president serves up a rancid mash of nasty stereotypes, gross exaggerations, lies and hypocritcal pieties.
Granted, the optics of the SOTU address are rigged from the get-go, favoring the President, particularly one who has majorities in both houses of congress. And the Republicans have to be credited with making the most of it, putting on a sparkly, glitch-free show for the TV audience. Riddled though his speech was with toxic ingredients, Trump’s delivery was sharp and uncharacteristically disciplined.
Not that the substantive elements of Trump’s presentation were all that impressive. As Ed Kilgore notes in his New York Magazine coverage of the SOTU, Trump “failed to give Americans the details that separate bogus and magical promises from an actual, realizable agenda” and “And there was nothing at all about how to pay for whatever comes next after Obamacare.”
Kilgore’s colleague at New York, Jonathan Chait focuses on Trump’s insincere pleas for bipartisanship, and concludes:
On the whole, Trump’s agenda shows a president who has not departed from the plutocratic agenda that has dominated his party for a quarter-century, but only added grotesque, cruel, racist, and deeply stupid selling points. He has nothing to offer a party not enamored of the opportunity to carry out a massive and historic upward redistribution of wealth.
At The Nation, John Nichols notes a worrisome uptick in Trump’s enthusiasm for increasing the already bloated military budget at the expense of jobs and other human needs:
The rhetoric was, by the standards of this presidency, disciplined. But the specifics were few. Only toward the end did the president get specific, saying, “I am sending the Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the Defense sequester, and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.”
Trump was not at all specific about paying for that increase—aside from mentioning the fact that he had “placed a hiring freeze on non-military and non-essential Federal workers.” But his administration has been clear about its hope that the money will come from deep cuts to domestic programs.
At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky observed,
But the big clash point of this speech was Obamacare. You noticed that the Democrats sat still in their seats for that. Trump said he had some six-point plan, blah blah blah; most of those six points were Paul Ryan talking points, and I felt Ryan applauded more wholeheartedly during that section of the speech than any other.
All the Republicans applauded, it seemed, but remember that polls are coming out right now showing that their position on this is now the minority position. I think Mitch McConnell knows this in his bones. I’m not sure that the positions Trump stated tonight on health care are positions that can win 60 votes in the Senate, and I’d wager that McConnell isn’t sure they can, either.This speech will get very positive reviews. But remember—government isn’t a speech. Today, before this speech, with little fanfare, Trump signed into law an NRA-backed bill that will allow more mentally ill people to buy guns. And remember, there is still Russia. That is not going and cannot go away.
Trump showed tonight that he can sound like a president. That’s not nothing. It’s something he’s never done before. But can he be a president we can respect, even if we disagree? Each day tells us he can’t, and this speech doesn’t change that at all.
Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear delivered a solid critique in the official Democratic response:
Unless the audio in the chamber was dialed down during the response to Trump’s more divisive remarks, it sounded to me like the Democrats were grumbling at moments which begged for booing, or at least a loud “No!” or two. Yes, civility is usually the order of the hour at the SOTU, and the party out of power doesn’t want to look too undignified. But Trump is no ordinary president, and his low regard for civility and decency merits a proportional response on occasion. It’s not like the Dems have a lot to lose with a tougher response at this political moment.
If you have to be a captive audience, it doesn’t mean that you can’t protest boldly against the speaker’s worst distortions and mean-spirited attacks. Trump won the presidency by working the hell out of his base. The one thing Democratic factions are unified about now is the need for a more vigorous response to Trump’s worst policies and comments. It’s time to amp it up.