Trump’s interminable SOTU was highly redolent of the current state of his presidency:
There were two truly well-done sections of the speech. One was the troll of the Democrats present around the divisive term “socialism.” The other was a series of moments on the stories of Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans.
These high points were, however, classic signs of an intellectually exhausted presidency. America does have a rich history and heritage that can be mined for moments of nobility and emotion at will. And Democrats have some internal divisions that their opponents can exploit.
But Trump’s concluding exhortations to “look at the opportunities before us” and recognize that “our most thrilling achievements are still ahead” fell fundamentally flat. Trump does not have any big ideas or grand transformative vision. His administration is essentially a three-legged stool. On the first leg, the slow but steady improvement in economic conditions that happened during Barack Obama’s final six years in office has continued through Trump’s first two. On the second leg, he’s turned over essentially every government agency to business interests who enjoy lax regulation and thus ensure he and his party remain well-funded. On the third, he has anti-immigrant demagoguery to blame for every problem under the sun.
There are no real ideas here to tackle the escalating costs of health care, higher education, housing, and child care. No interest in economic inequality, no real thought about foreign policy, and basically no real energy or sense of purpose. Trump’s key idea was that to maintain peace and prosperity, Congress needs to abdicate its oversight responsibilities and let him be as corrupt as he wants. That’s all he’s left with — a vague hope that the economy holds up and nobody catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. But the investigations are going to happen, and they’re going to be fascinating.
Trump himself, meanwhile, is just dull now.
An exhausted president leading an exhausted coalition, which remains a viable national party solely because American political institutions reward demagogic appeals to the majority’s racial identity and because the wealthiest Americans wield an outsize influence on political outcomes, in part because of some misapplications of the First Amendment by bare majorities of the Supreme Court.