Quick Thoughts

FEBRUARY 5, 2019 - WASHINGTON, DC: President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address, with Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, at the Capitol in Washington, DC on February 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/The New York Times POOL PHOTO) NYTSOTU
Pool/Getty Images North America

All things considered, for Trump, this struck me as a fairly anodyne speech. It was fairly long for a State of the Union address. Trump hit his key bloodthirsty points, portraying undocumented immigrants as a tide of murderers threatening the country. He bragged on his supposed accomplishments – some real, most pretended. But overall, it tended to emphasize national unity, regardless of how empty that charge may be coming from what is certainly the most intentionally divisive President in modern American history. He even had some genuinely touching moments, such as the stories at the end of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, with US soldiers who were the liberators and inmates who were there that day.

There were occasional jagged moments, decrying babies being ripped from mothers’ wombs, raging against partisan investigations. But these struck me as occasional rage chirps in a speech that was for Trump relatively calm and a far cry from the “American carnage” vision of his inaugural address.

Trump and his advisors can see he’s in a corner. He needs to try to get some footing with a less confrontational, more unifying posture that most Presidents at least optically try to govern from. I don’t have a word count. But the word ‘compromise’ or variants of it appeared again and again in the speech, even though this is a President who has almost never sought compromise. Far more often, even when he can’t win a fight, he will maintain it as an unresolved confrontation because he believes that helps him politically. The reality of his abject defeat at the hands of Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the monthlong government shutdown drama loomed over the whole night.

It was a rather sedate speech for Trump. But in so many ways its themes were unmoored from his actual presidency which has been built on defiance and confrontation.

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