State of the Union speeches were boring, long-winded and ultimately irrelevant long before President Trump arrived. I got my hopes up when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered Trump the alternative of submitting his State of the Union remarks in written form. No such luck — Trump is set to deliver his address Tuesday before a joint session of Congress.
Trump’s State of the Union is even less significant than the State of the Unions offered by recent presidents. Trump lies more than past presidents and has a greater gap between rhetoric and action than most. In other words, it does not matter what he says Tuesday night. In a nanosecond, the words evaporate and we return to Trump tweets, fabrications and attacks.
Trump’s State of the Union also suffers because he has become a bore — regurgitating the same points, incorporating no new ideas or information (for he is incapable of learning) and spouting the same know-nothingism. He is drearily predictable.
With near-certainty, Trump will utter repeatedly debunked lies, lots of them. He’ll talk about national unity but take no responsibility for the deep divisions he has caused nor for the racism and hatefulness he has exhibited. He’ll make a slew of unfounded foreign policy pronouncements attributing newfound (and nonexistent) respect in the world to his own brilliance. (He seems not to notice that he is the subject of international derision and an endless source of frustration to allies.)
At least with a teleprompter, he can avoid the kind of word salads — or as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) calls them, “word vomit” — he tossed up in his interview with CBS’s Margaret Brennan. Here’s a chunk of incoherence, lest you think Murphy exaggerates:
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Senate Republicans voted, the vast majority of them said that they don't support what you're doing. That what you're doing risks national intelligence by a precipitous withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan. Doesn't that concern you?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I ran against 17 Republicans. This was a big part of what I was saying, and I won very easily. I think the people out in the world- I think people in our country agree. We've been fighting for 19 years. Somebody said you were precipitously bringing to- precipitously? We've been there for 19 years. I want to fight. I want to win, and we want to bring our great troops back home. I've seen the people. I go to Walter Reed Hospital. I see what happens to people. I see with no legs and no arm- arms. And I've seen also what happens to them up here because they're in this situation, and they come back and they are totally different people-- where the wives and the fathers and the mothers say, "What has happened to my son? What has happened in some cases to my daughter?" It's a terrible thing. We've been there close to 19 years. And it's time. And we'll see what happens with the Taliban. They want peace. They're tired. Everybody's tired. We'd like to have- I don't like endless wars. This war. What we're doing is got to stop at some point.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you- but you also campaigned saying that, you know, President Obama made a big mistake by telegraphing his military moves. You're telegraphing your retreat.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm not telegraphing anything. No, no, no. There's a difference. When President Obama pulled out of Iraq in theory we had Iraq. In other words, we had Iraq. We never had Syria because President Obama never wanted to violate the red line in the sand. So we never had Syria. I was the one that actually violated the red line when I hit Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles, if you remember. But President Obama chose not to do that. When he chose not to do that, he showed tremendous weakness. But we didn't have Syria whereas we had Iraq. So when he did what he did in Iraq, which was a mistake. Being in Iraq was a mistake. Okay. Being in Iraq- it was a big mistake to go- one of the greatest mistakes going into the Middle East that our country has ever made. One of the greatest mistakes that we've ever made--
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want to keep troops there now?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: --but when it was chosen-- well, we spent a fortune on building this incredible base. We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Whoa, that's news. You're keeping troops in Iraq because you want to be able to strike in Iran?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch. We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East rather than pulling up. And this is what a lot of people don't understand. We're going to keep watching and we're going to keep seeing and if there's trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we're going to know it before they do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're going to trust the intelligence that you receive?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am going to trust the intelligence that I’m putting there, but I will say this: my intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent. It is a vicious country that kills many people. When you talk about torture and so many other things. And- maybe they’ll come back. The country is getting absolutely- when I ended the horrible Iran nuclear deal- it was a horrible deal done by President Obama and John Kerry that didn’t know what the hell he was doing. When I ended that deal, Margaret, all of a sudden Iran became a different country. They became- very rapidly- right now they’re a country that’s in big financial trouble. Let’s see what happens.
Got that? It’s frightening to hear his stream of consciousness patter but entirely understandable given his aversion to reading and his hours upon hours of executive time wherein he gets information from Fox non-News hosts and other sycophants.
Pundits will find a platitude here or there in his remarks to praise, identifying this as the source of hope that he’s — wait for it — becoming more presidential. In fact, like his syntax, his presidency is unraveling before our eyes; his attachment to reality becomes more tenuous by the day.
Nevertheless, there is some anticipation, even excitement, about Tuesday night. It derives from the selected politician to respond to Trump, losing Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Unlike Trump, her message, her arguments, her priorities and her rhetoric will be new to the vast majority of Americans. (As with the president’s weak Oval Office speech on the border and the Democratic leaders' response, one wonders if Abrams’s ratings will be higher than Trump’s.)
Aides said that Abrams, who proved herself to be an inspiring orator on the campaign trail, is writing her own speech. She weaves together stories of her life and anecdotes of people she has met on the campaign trail to help explain her policy positions and to connect with audiences.
Traveling around Georgia, she focused on expanding eligibility for Medicaid, providing more money for public schools, creating jobs and helping small-business owners, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. Those themes are likely to be included in her 10-minute response Tuesday.
Policy substance? A personal story of struggle, not of entitlement? Wow, that would be a change of pace.
Abrams can remind the country that we aren’t consigned in perpetuity to a president entirely lacking in intelligence, empathy and decency. About a year from now the presidential primary voting process begins. Voters will have a chance to find Trump’s replacement — someone new, interesting, grounded in reality, personally decent and inspirational. When we see the Trump vs. Abrams contrast on Tuesday, we’ll get a taste of what it might be like to have a president we can respect, maybe even admire. Abrams’s appearance should underscore that 2020 will be the ultimate change election.