Andrew Ricci, Vice President, LEVICK
The State of the Union Address, mandated in Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, requires the president to periodically “give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Thus, at its most basic, it’s supposed to be the country’s annual physical, replete with doctor’s prescriptions to cure, remedy, or at least improve the nation’s health. The pomp and circumstance that the speech now enjoys is a relatively recent addition.
The real truth about State of the Union Addresses is that despite wall to wall cable news coverage for the entire week leading up to it and live coverage deep into the night, we don’t really remember them. In the best-case scenario, a president making a particularly great speech will see their approval rating bounce upward for a period of time. But it isn’t long before the shine wears off and the national consciousness moves to other things. They are supposed to give a diagnostic of where we, outline where we want to be, and lay out the priorities to address over the next year in order to get there. If it weren’t Constitutionally-mandated, it’s actually not that hard to envision President Trump abandoning the tradition altogether, choosing instead to make his diagnoses on Twitter.
In the days leading up to President Trump’s first official State of the Union, teasers put out from the President’s allies signaled a hopeful, bipartisan speech – one that would unite both sides and bridge the ever-widening partisan divide, if only for a day or two.
To be fair, there were a few standout, bipartisan, feel good moments. The early shoutout to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, almost fatally injured by a deranged gunman last summer, was something Congress could universally get behind. And the image of North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, triumphantly holding in one hand above his head the old pair of crutches he used to escape, will likely become one of the lasting icons of this speech as it is recounted in future years.
But the rest of the speech was, if not somewhat predictable, far from the bipartisan address that had been heralded, predicted, and promised. It wasn’t quite the “American Carnage” of his inaugural, but in tone, content, and flexibility with the truth, it was the same old Trump. Our thoughts and prayers should be with the fact checkers tonight.
There was a real opportunity here to make progress. With one government shutdown not far in the rear view mirror and another quickly approaching on the horizon, there are big problems that need to be addressed. But rather than try to find common ground and give the bipartisan address that was expected, the President doubled down on divisiveness. He rattled through every issue that has proven to be a hot button since the start of his presidency, twisting the knife in the minority body politic for maximum impact.
So what changes as a result of this? The truth is, probably not much. If the past year is any indication, I’ll be surprised if we’re still talking about the speech by Wednesday. And by next Monday, the nation will have surely moved on. The speech wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great, and in that case, it’s only a matter of time before the next crisis wipes our memory and we’re back exactly where we started.