I noticed something last night during President Trump’s State of the Union Address that was refreshing. It had nothing to do with policy, and probably went unnoticed by most political observers. But it was important for the future of our republic.
I noticed that the speech wasn’t about him.
From start to finish, the address focused on Americans meeting our problems collectively, and on America finding its appropriate place in the world. It wasn’t a lecture from an agitated schoolmarm as we’ve become accustomed to over the previous eight years. It wasn’t a ragged defense of personal policy objectives, foreign and domestic, as occurred the eight years preceding that. It was full of actual Americans, actual citizens who have suffered, persevered, overcome, and triumphed. If you really want to know the state of our union, that is a much better place to start than with a self-absorbed executive talking about himself.
There’s no denying that America has certainly abandoned the civic-duty, public service model of leadership and gravitated towards a dangerous narcissism in those we choose to put in places of significant public trust.
Who could forget the speech in Austin, Texas a few years ago when Barack Obama referred to himself directly 199 times? Or his first inaugural address where he talked about himself reportedly four times more often than Donald Trump? And obviously Trump’s sense of self-importance is well documented as well, like this glorious beauty from an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
Trump: “They dislike me, the liberal media dislikes me. I mean I watch people – I was always the best at what I did, I was the – I was, you know, I went to the – I went to the Wharton School of Finance, did well. I went out, I – I started in Brooklyn, in a Brooklyn office with my father, I became one of the most successful real estate developers, one of the most successful business people. I created maybe the greatest brand. I then go into, in addition to that, part time, like five percent a week, I open up a television show. As you know, the Apprentice on many evenings was the number one show on all of television, a tremendous success. It went on for 12 years, a tremendous success. They wanted to sign me for another three years and I said, no, I can’t do that. That’s one of the reasons NBC hates me so much. NBC hates me so much they wantd – they were desperate to sign me for – for three more years.”
WSJ: “Mr. President, you made reference to the book. Steve Bannon – ”
Trump: “Just – and so – so I was successful, successful, successful. I was always the best athlete, people don’t know that. But I was successful at everything I ever did and then I run for president, first time – first time, not three times, not six times. I ran for President first time and lo and behold, I win. And then people say oh, is he a smart person? I’m smarter than all of them put together, but they can’t admit it. They had a bad year.”
What we should do is remember that a republic functions effectively only on the propensity of the people to overcome their varying self-interests and work collectively to promote the common good. That is a reality that has been rarely echoed in the halls of Washington, which is why it stood out like a sore thumb during last night’s State of the Union Address.
Republican or Democrat, if we’re wise, we’ll all be nodding in agreement and saying, “More of that. Much, much more of that.”