Friday, February 8, 2019

The SOTU was all about Trump and his divisive need for enemies

Susan B. Glasser comments in the New Yorker on Trump’s Dark Preview of His 2020 Campaign. Why the President used his State of the Union address to claim that Democrats are going to turn America into a socialist hellscape.

Following are excerpts.

His speech made clear that he intends to run his reëlection race the same way he ran his first campaign: as a divider, not a uniter. Trump is all about having enemies. Without Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to set himself in opposition to, he will try to vilify far-left socialist Democrats and rampaging illegal immigrants in 2020. The immigrant-bashing, of course, was a staple and centerpiece of his 2016 race. The claim that Democrats are going to turn America into a Venezuelan socialist hellscape is something new. The Party, with its embrace of Sanders (and his Medicare-for-all proposal) and A.O.C. (with her talk of seventy-per-cent income-tax rates on the über-rich), appears to be tilting left at just the right moment for Trump. “It seems to me that DJT has zero interest in expanding his coalition, and is going all-in on making the Democratic alternative unpalatable, hence the focus on opposing ‘socialism,’ ” the Republican strategist Michael Steel, a former senior adviser to the House G.O.P. leadership, told me in an e-mail the morning after the speech.

Tell me how the Trump story ends and I will tell you whether we remember anything from his 2019 State of the Union address. As a speech, it was utterly forgettable—and, I suspect, soon to be forgotten. Aside from its call to defend America from a socialist takeover, it seems to me there was only one other line that may merit a mention in history books, depending on just what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finds, and how Democrats choose to handle it. The moment came early on in the speech, when Trump interrupted his economic triumphalism to warn the Democrats to proceed with the many investigations of him and his Administration at their peril. “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” the President said. The words “Russia” and “Mueller” never crossed his lips when he mentioned the investigation. But the inescapable context of the Trump Presidency is the shadow that has loomed over it from the start: Russian intervention in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and his possible collusion with it. Should Trump suffer a Nixonian end to his Presidency, it’s a clip we’ll hear decades from now.

Scriber’s pick for the ugliest quote came when Trump followed on with this elaboration of his sub-theme, “investigations”: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” Glasser concludes:

Otherwise, I’ll remember this week for a line that should have been utterly unremarkable. “The state of the union is strong,” Trump said. This is supposed to be a throwaway, a pro-forma acknowledgement uttered by every President, not a controversial statement. The bitter partisan reaction to a formerly banal ritual of our democracy tells you everything you need to know about the state of American politics two years into Trump’s Presidency. Republicans applauded and hooted when Trump made the boilerplate announcement; Democrats, grim-faced, stayed resolutely in their seats. Which, of course, is the 2020 election preview in one picture: an angry, divided Congress for an angry, divided nation, a country that cannot even agree on the terms of its own greatness, unified more by its grievance than by a common purpose.

The thing is, Trump needs enemies. That’s how he defines himself. Unfortunately, he is dragging the party of Lincoln down that same path. Max Boot (Washington Post) elaborates on this point in Trump’s speech showed how he’s redefined conservatism in his own toxic image.

Trump was more right than he realized when he said: “The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.” No, it’s not. And it’s not the “agenda of the American people” either. It is a populist agenda that combines the big government infatuation of Democrats with the xenophobia and racism of the far right. This toxic combination has little in common with the sort of principled conservatism I grew up espousing — and yet the House chamber was full of self-described conservatives lustily applauding his remarks. Trump is a failed president, but the State of the Union speech made clear that he has succeeded in redefining conservatism in his own, deeply unattractive image.

In the end, Trump did not offer anything for true conservatives and nothing for liberals either. Instead it was all about Trump. It always was, it always is.

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