Editorial: Message of bipartisanship is a tough sell

  • President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., watch on Tuesday. AP

Published: 2/7/2019 12:04:57 AM

The State of the Union speech, the annual spectacle that forces members of Congress to bob up and down and clap like seals begging for fish, historically has little impact on public opinion or the course of history.

This year, President Donald Trump’s propensity to play fast and loose with facts, lie with a straight face and change his mind without warning, made Tuesday’s address even more meaningless than most.

The president is a man devoid of sincerity, which made his calls for unity ring hollow – especially because hours earlier he publicly vilified the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate in terms emphasized with an obscenity.

The Capitol was a study in black and white: men in black and most of the women dressed in white, to honor the women’s suffrage movement. The whole affair, complete with cheers and high-fives, had the feel of a high school pep rally.

The president rightly cited the bipartisan effort that led to criminal justice reform, highlighted by applause for two recently freed former inmates who turned their lives around while helping others. Further compromise, he said, was possible on matters like rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, but he mentioned no plan to do either.

The president then turned to the red meat that feeds his base, the menace of immigration, the horrors of late-term abortion, human trafficking, murder, crime and, thanks to illegal immigrants, a human crisis at the border and “hospitals too crowded to get in.” As usual, much of what Trump said was exaggerated or untrue.

The president made no mention of the longest government shutdown in America’s history, created by his demand for funding to build a wall on the nation’s southern border, or his threat to shut down the government again in eight more days unless he gets his way. He made no mention of climate change, which has put the planet in peril, or the national debt swollen by his tax cuts that primarily benefit the well-off.

The most bipartisan moment of the evening came when the president announced that 58 percent of America’s newly created jobs were filled by women. After the women in white, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, rose and cheered, he asked them to remain standing. In a profound irony, one Trump gave no sign of being aware of, he said: “Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this. ... We also have more women serving in Congress than any time before.” Many, if not most, of those women were Democrats elected because they oppose Trump.

Because everyone in the annual farce must play their part, members of Congress are obliged to respond, and New Hampshire’s delegation did. All four led with the requisite hope that bipartisanship might be possible and expressed their willingness to work across the aisle, but their statements were not exactly brimming with optimism.

“We can work together, Democrats and Republicans, to accomplish these goals with the help of President Trump or despite him,” Rep. Annie Kuster said.

The nation is probably only a few tweets away from finding out which it will be.

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