In my life, I have listened to more than 50 State of the Union speeches, and I can honestly say that Tuesday’s speech by President Trump was the most bizarre I have heard. About one-third of the speech had no substance at all; it was beautifully choreographed to have the president recount heroic stories of the lives of his guest attendees. It didn’t matter your partisan take, you had to be moved by one story after another.
Another part of the speech was the obligatory call for unity, which the president did in basically a half-hearted manner. It was clear that he was reading someone else’s words on a Teleprompter. He did, however, mention several initiatives on which even progressive Democrats could have agreed to work with him — for example, investing in infrastructure, reducing prescription drug prices, instituting paid family leave, and putting more money toward research for childhood cancer.
After going through this litany of things that the Democratic-led Congress and Republican president might be able to work together on, any hope or optimism that the listener may have had quickly dissipated. The president, in his most enthusiastic delivery of the speech, said there could be no legislation passed if the Congress persists with conducting investigations against him and his administration.
This clear-cut warning completely overshadowed the rhetoric about unity and it was vintage Trump. If the president had cared to look back to another president who was not only investigated but also impeached by the House, he could have examined Bill Clinton in 1998 managing to continue to make progress on challenges facing the country. President Clinton worked with the very Congress that was impeaching him and passed the Class Size Reduction Initiative, the Charter School Expansion Act, the Reauthorization and Expansion of Head Start and, most importantly, a budget deal that contributed to eliminating the deficit and significantly reducing our national debt.
So, within the same speech, President Trump stated two contradictory goals — unity can be achieved, but unity can’t be achieved unless it is on his terms.
The speech was bizarre in so many other ways, including the to-be-expected Trump lies. For example:
That prescription drug prices declined this past year. They didn’t; they went up, and continue to go up.
That he favors increasing the number of legal immigrants allowed in the country. He doesn’t; his first two budgets significantly cut the number of legal immigrants to be allowed in.
That the 2.7 million jobs created in 2018 are examples of why this is the greatest economy ever. It isn’t; in 2015, under President Obama, the same number of jobs were created.
In addition to these falsehoods, Trump employed a technique that Steve Liesman of CNBC explained as being much like someone who takes a subway for the first 25 miles of a marathon and then runs the final mile to claim victory. Examples of this clever fudging of the facts:
Trump’s claim that “his economy” is responsible for the lowest African-American unemployment rate in history. The truth is, that rate has dropped 9 percent but the first 8 percent occurred during Obama’s time in office.
Trump’s claim that El Paso had a high crime rate before a wall was built to protect it from illegal immigrants and now it is one of the safest cities in America. In truth, as the county Sheriff Richard Wiles stated Wednesday, El Paso was a safe city long before the wall was constructed.
Then there was the part of the speech that made no sense at all. For example, Trump endorsed legislation to create school choice — in 16 words, with no detail and no explanation of what school choice really means. Oddly, he sandwiched those 16 words in between his endorsement of the fight against childhood cancers and his call for nationwide paid family leave. It was as if it was a college board test and he got points for mentioning as many subjects as he could.
But perhaps most shocking of all was Trump’s claim that, had he not been elected president, “we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.” As a candidate, Trump used to lead his supporters in chanting “Lock her up!” about Hillary Clinton. Given this pronouncement about North Korea, it’s time for the rest of us to start chanting, “Impeach him now!”
By Former Gov. Ed Rendell, opinion contributor,