OK. The State Of The Union (SOTU) speech was last night (as I write this). One of President Trump’s better speeches, actually, showing that if he sticks to the script, he can be an effective speaker. There were moments during that speech where I could actually see myself voting for him…
And then he’d say something dumb and spoil it.
OK, talk up Al-Baghdadi’s death and taking out that Iranian terror master, and tout the positive economic indicators of the past few years. Every President who gives a SOTU speech takes credit when there is positive news, particularly economic news, regardless of when the upswing actually began. It is a well-known fact that current administrations take full credit for results of prior Administration actions. Been like that since forever.
Likewise, each SOTU glosses over the less favorable data, blames a previous administration’s policies, and this one was no exception. The SOTU is something of a pep talk for the country, akin to a campaign speech, but with a broader focus. And just like the Presidents in nearly of all prior SOTU addresses, Donald Trump is running for re-election.
So STFU about it being a re-election speech. They all are re-election speeches.
Anyway, as I started to say, he made a few mistakes in that speech, a few unnecessarily partisan digs and provocations, which kind of ruined the moment for me. To my mind, though, there was one mistake he made that eclipsed the others, and that was his choice to award Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A mistake he then compounded by actually bestowing that honor right there at the State of the Union address – an unprecedented event.
One one hand, I get it. At minimum, Limbaugh is a poster child for the First Amendment, the basic freedom we enjoy to speak one’s mind. The Rachel Maddows and Sean Hannitys and Steven Colberts of the world owe their livelihoods to the fact he helped blaze that trail. And with his recent cancer diagnosis, the time to recognize that may be short. And, truth be told, I enjoyed the utterly gobsmacked expression on his face.
But it’s also true that Rush Limbaugh is and has been one of the most divisive voices in our political theater (yes, theater). He (and the other muckrakers like Maddow and Hannity and Colbert) represents polarization and exclusivity, instead of inclusiveness and unity, which is the best of America. For that reason, I don’t think he’s an appropriate recipient of the same singular honor that went to the likes of Rosa Parks, Norman Rockwell, and Mother Teresa.
Yes, this honor is given at the discretion of the President, and some undeserving people have received it in the past. But in awarding it to Limbaugh, and in the fashion he did so, Mr. Trump openly allied himself with that mindset at a whole new level, and deepened the divide. Deliberately, which I find particularly troubling given the current, extremely volatile environment.
Of course, Speaker Pelosi couldn’t be outdone, displaying her inability to take the high road (and total lack of class) by tearing up her copy of the speech in an apparently pre-planned theatrical show for the cameras.
Which perfectly illustrates the other major mistake of this State of the Union speech. That the State of the Union is strong. Oh, the American economy might be making great gains, but the Union is in deep, deep trouble.