The President offered a fairly solid State of the Union Address this Tuesday night. It simply was in line with what one typically expects from such fare and with that, he appears to have gotten good grades from the public at large. He told us he could act "Presidential" and this Tuesday night, he basically did. Below is my take on it from various angles. In the end, however, I do believe it is a dangerous speech, a controversial speech. The end of the essay explores that briefly.
Oh no doubt there were interesting moments. Comments such as peace and legislation can only happen without war and investigation? He said something like that. Not sure what that was. In short, that was the exception.
Again he basically did offer up a pretty typical State of the Union. He boasted about his achievements, perhaps exaggerated on a few of those. Surprise, surprise, surprise. He also boasted about America's and American's achievements. He talked of and introduced World War II Vets, a former federal prison inmate who had been sentenced to life for a first offence if I heard correctly.
He introduced a family who suffered a home invasion and lost their parents to illegal aliens, a Holocaust survivor and Pittsburgh shooting survivor, and the police office who basically stopped the later. Oh and let us not forget a Hispanic Border Patrol Officer. So he had in his speech a full house of Americans, and American achievements.
In some respects it could be suggested that these were custom tailored to his agenda or issues. In the Holocaust and Pittsburgh shooting survivor and police officer, he acknowledges both the uptick in antisemitism and gun violence. One of the Vets he introduced in fact had participated in the liberation of the camp the survivor was in. It tied together nicely. So the first comment is that the speech worked and helped the president with various populations, black prisoners, Hispanic Border Patrol Officers, Jewish shooting victims, etc.
And no doubt his speech writers were probably cognizant of such things. They of course want to address various issues that he might have missed or they simply want to bolster. That is one of the intents of the State of the Union, past and present.
There was something lacking though. You have these various individuals. The WWII Vets, the law-enforcement officers, the former prison inmate, and the shooting and home invasion victims. What do all of these say to one? For me it says it is a crazy world. We have a concentration camp survivor who find himself in America sixty years later in the middle or at least in proximity to a shooting spree in a synagogue. A family who loses their parents in a home invasion by some illegal aliens. And then a Hispanic Border patrol Officer and a Black woman who was in prison for life for a drug charge. The last does not sound right, but that is what I heard during the course of the speech. I want to go largely by memory on this, as will most people.
It is a crazy and dangerous world. It is a world that requires walls. The elites have walls. If the family there in that hall had a wall, they might still have their parents. Interestingly, he did mention D-Day, which was the taking down of Hitler's Atlantic Wall. In general, though, what was conveyed is the danger of the world. and the need for protection. Not freedom but a violent world and the need for protection.
This is a theme he has stressed before. His is a zero sum game. In his world there can only be one winner. This time he did not state these claims, but rather illustrated them. Such is a rhetorical devise that allows one to slip something in quietly. The claim or assertion is unstated. He actually never made such a claim regarding how dangerous the world is - not last night. Yet, if we look at his guest list and their stories, it is there. The world is a dangerous place - that is the claim.
He is not the first to make such claims, but this President stops there. He does not explore what makes it dangerous. For the recent Bush Administration it was Saddam Hussein and radical Muslims. For Obama, I am not sure. For previous Presidents perhaps the Soviet Union. For this President it is illegal immigrants, ISIS, and perhaps socialists. In short, the list is left undefined.
The speech though, despite the guest and despite the rhetoric that went with these guests, did not leads us anywhere. It simply wandered. He had not grand bargain. he simply asked for or demanded his wall, and and likewise said that he could not be investigated. He offered no City on a Hill, but only the fear of being shot in a synagogue or in your own home, the threat of going to jail for life on a drug charge. There was not grand challenge. Despite the rhetoric, he did not challenge his audience, neither there nor those watching on their TVs.
No one left saying yes, I want to be part of this President's grand crusade. Again, all he asked for was a wall, no investigations of himself, and oh yes the elimination of AIDS and childhood cancer. The later two are noble but they do not inspire. For better or worse, AIDS is not the disease it was, not in the public consciousness. Cancer likewise has been chipped away at and hopefully that will continue. These are not in 2019 amazing startling claims.
There was no goal of a man on the moon or a man on Mars. There was no challenge to improve all of our schools. There was no challenge to insure all live a good life or at least a life out of poverty. All that we were offered is a violent world, the ability of American to use force, and that we need walls to protect ourselves, our property, and our jobs. This is our life. This is America.
That is my basic take on the speech. Now my critique and why I felt it was a dangerous speech.
Typically, when World War II is introduced in a speech such as the State of the Union, it is with a certain intent. The war is usually used to point to what followed it, a uniquely American era, a uniquely American world with a system we are largely responsible for. Things such as global trade, the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and even an emergent China. All of these could and probably should have a label slapped on them, "Made in the USA." All of these were inspired by and facilitated by America. And it was that global war, which we jumped into in 1941, and that we helped to win, which allowed us to define much of what followed.
None of that was mentioned. He did not discuss what we had accomplished since the end of that war. Nor did he go into why we engaged in that war. Yes he talked of the concentration camps and the Normandy invasion, but he did not talk about nationalism, fascism, nor of a more global system to challenge such phenomena. All we were shown is a violent world. He did not explore the causes of that violence.
Rather what we witnessed is a progression from D-Day to concentration camps, to a synagogue shooting, to home invasions and MS 13.
In short, it was a speech to help us forget who we are, and what we have achieved. It offered nothing regarding an American past nor future. It did not help us determine our place in the world. It gave us nothing to pursue or strive for. It basically put us in a fog, leaving us uncertain of where we came from and more importantly where we are going. And this was done once again right there in front of us in the course of a pretty much standard State of the Union Speech. Such a standard speech is why people responded well to it, and that only makes it more dangerous.