I can write this before the speech is even over. The President has some great lines. “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year – isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take ten years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” he asked. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of the past Administrations that got us into this dangerous position,” he proclaimed as he set aside President Obama’s order on Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility closing.
But it does not matter.
He fooled me last year. President Trump addressed the nation and the Congress in a joint address to Congress. Though not a State of the Union address, it had all the trappings including notable, thematic guests. The news media portrayed it positively. Multiple pundits across the political spectrum, myself included, declared the President had finally become Presidential. Only a few days later, CNN itself noted the President had not attacked anyone on Twitter. The President’s speech continued to get positive airplay across the media for several days as Republicans breathed a sigh of relief. He had found his footing, or so they thought.
It was not to be. Less than a week after his speech, President Trump pivoted from Presidential to petulant. He accused President Obama of tapping his phone. The meltdown spiraled out of control from there. By the Sunday after his joint address to Congress, the nation had moved on to the FBI investigation, the partisan back and forth over whether the President’s phones had been tapped, and the Republican attempt to drag Barack Obama into the scandal.
The same thing will happen this time. There will be other news and other tweets. There will be many distractions and the President’s agenda will amount to nothing. To be fair, however, no State of the Union address goes anywhere. It is the one of the most monarchial trappings of the American Presidency — a Queen’s Speech without a crown or Queen. But the Queen’s Speech, written by her government, presents an agenda Parliament will enact. The President’s agenda, presented in his speech, rarely gets enacted.
Importantly, prior President’s agendas may not get enacted as outlined, but progress tends to get made on the administration’s priorities and even in a hyper partisan era, prior administrations have tried to find common ground on popular agenda items. Tonight, President Trump pledged to work across the aisle to find common ground. But by Friday, as insults are hurled and tweets fly, no one will even remember what his agenda is.
The State of the Union speech does not matter and it will not matter. It is a waste of taxpayer and media resources in terms of is preparation, coverage, and delivery. Next year, President Trump should just tweet.