Back to IndieWire

State of The Union Review: Donald Trump Will Never Be Presidential, Just an Embarrassment

The teleprompter worked, and Trump managed to read the screen, but spoke mostly to his base.

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in WashingtonState Of Union, Washington, USA - 30 Jan 2018

State of the Union 2018

Monsivais/AP/REX/Shutterstock

So this is how liberty dies, with thunderous applause. That quote, from “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” has felt prescient ever since the 2016 election. But with the Trump Administration continuing to undermine the very foundation of this country’s institutions, including the Department of Justice and the FBI, it has never been more apropos than what Americans witnessed on Tuesday night at one of the longest State of the Union addresses in history.

Or perhaps we are living in the bizarro world, which would explain the “State of the Uniom” typo as seen on the official tickets to the speech. And it would explain the fact that an Arizona congressman actually asked the Capitol Police and Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to check identification of everyone at the address and “arrest any illegal aliens in attendance.”

This is America, 2018.

Like your five-year-old nephew who gets a gold star for showing up to preschool, and a trophy just for making it to the soccer field, Donald Trump earned brownie points just for being able to read a teleprompter without making a fool of himself. It’s those low expectations that earn accolades time and time again that Trump “looked presidential” just by actually stringing multiple sentences together at the same time — which, granted, has indeed become a feat for this chief executive. “If his nose isn’t running, and he isn’t burping, he did a great speech,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of Trump’s low expectations in a chat with fellow Democrats on Tuesday, according to Politico.

Trump overstuffed his speech with stories of people in the audience, and some of those stories were indeed emotional. But they were overshadowed by the rhetoric and divisive language. Trump also had a habit of clapping for himself, which was a constant loud distraction in the microphone. This was a speech mostly for the base. (And also, will any of this even matter tomorrow, when Trump undermines his own message with a Tweet?)

Several Democratic women wore black in solidarity with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movement, while many Congressional Black Caucus members boycotted the speech, and others opted not to clap as Trump entered the hall. This is a divided country. And Trump has done little to reach across the aisle — other than empty words in a Congressional chamber. Trump managed plenty of cheap shots, including once again wrongly framing why NFL players have been protesting police brutality, and misled on the issue of immigration through straight propaganda. (Trump’s obsession with the MS-13 gang seems to miss the fact that it actually started in the United States.)

The speech itself was full of lies about immigration and “compromise.” But this State of the Union was divisive and angry. By the middle of the speech, Trump revealed the true nature of his plans: “America First,” a loaded phrase used in the 20th century to promote anti-Semitic and racist viewpoints.

The speech kicked off as a lackluster affair, as Trump rattled off a trumped up list of “victories,” taking credit for a booming economy that he inherited from President Barack Obama. It was a subdued Trump, not the Trump who riffs random asides on the campaign trail or the Trump who posts incendiary Tweets after binge watching “Fox and Friends.” In other words, it wasn’t really Trump. It was TeleTrumpTer. (Guaranteed he still doesn’t know what “beautiful clean coal” is, since it is not a thing.)

A person waves from a window as UltraViolet, a national women's group, projects a message on the 12th Street side of the Trump International Hotel before President Donald Trump gives his State of the Union Address, in Washington Trump State of Union Protest, Washington, USA - 30 Jan 2018

A reminder of some of his real accomplishments: Under Trump, hate crimes have jumped by nearly 20 percent in U.S. cities; U.S. coal mine deaths doubled in 2017, after Trump proclaimed that he had “saved coal”; U.S. tourism spending has declined 3.3 percent, or $4.6 billion since he took office, costing 40,000 jobs; a third of Puerto Rico remains without power, more than four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island; climate change websites have been censored, two national monuments were downsized, most of the National Parks advisory board has quit, and the U.S. pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement as Trump conducted a full-fledged assault on the environment; and Trump made at least 2,140 false or misleading statements in just his first year in office.

Also: Trump ignored the emoluments clause, keeping his stakes in his global businesses and directly benefiting from doing business with foreign governments and officials; there’s plenty of evidence that he attempted to obstruct justice, including an attempt at firing special counsel Robert Mueller; he passed a tax plan that greatly benefited the wealthy, including himself, over all others; he called certain third world nations “shithole countries”; he put Nazis on equal footing with those who protest white supremacy, earning high praise from white nationalists like David Duke, who thrill that one of their own is in the White House; he has now spent 91 days on the golf course, at a $50 million cost to taxpayers, having previously criticized Obama for golfing a fraction of that amount (and promising he would do no such thing); he taunted North Korea to the point that we’re closer to a potential nuclear war that didn’t need to happen; he supported an alleged pedophile for Senate and still refuses to take any responsibility or acknowledge credible reports (including his own admission) of sexual harassment and assault.

Then there’s his attack on the journalism, which is having an impact on the free press all over the world… and his embrace of dictators and authoritarians, including his inexplicable defense of Vladimir Putin. Just this week, he refused to implement Russian sanctions that Congress had overwhelmingly passed in 2017.

Demonstrators gather in Union Square, New York City 100 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. It is estimated that more than 50% of the island is still without power. Hurricane Maria killed 64 Puerto Ricans. Approximately 1,000 more died as a result of poor disaster response. Protest over handling of Puerto Rico hurricane relief aid, New York, USA - 29 Dec 2017

As Stephen King wrote on Twitter, “Set aside for a moment that Trump is a narcissistic, bad-tempered, lazy, and unprepared president, and consider this: the State of the Union is about to be given by a sexual predator who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.”

This is America, 2018.

Trump will have his moment tonight, and weak-knee pundits will feel the need to be contrarian by once again proclaiming their shock that Trump could open his mouth and recite what was written before him. But at least fewer people will be able to proclaim that he finally seems “presidential.”

The State of the Union won’t change that. For one thing, most Americans won’t be watching. To be fair, viewership will likely also be small for the official Democratic response from Rep. Joe Kennedy III, as well as separate planned responses from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Maxine Waters and Virginia House of Delegates member Elizabeth Guzman.

As Peter Hamby wrote in Vanity Fair, the entire exercise of the State of the Union address is an exercise in pointlessness anyway, calling it “a made-for-television event full of empty calories and little political consequence… The Trump who will stand before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening isn’t fooling anyone, except some Beltway pundits who insist on always adding something new to ‘the conversation.’ Washington journalists are among the few dead-enders eager to ascribe meaning to a night that faded long ago into meaningless ritual.”

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , ,


Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox

Newswire