President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech to Congress was by any reasonable assessment a disaster.
While the historic use of the State of the Union has certainly varied over the decades, much more often than not presidents have used this unique opportunity to not only lay out a vision for policy, but also to lay out that vision in broad unifying terms.
The goal, one can assume, being to provide an opportunity for the public at-large to connect to the president’s policies and feel good about items in the agenda for which they may not have already had a supportive connection.
At times, Trump perhaps achieved this goal in a phrase or sentence or two. However, as he is far too often guilty of, he immediately descended into clearly divisive language obliterating any momentary goodwill that might have been gained.
This is not to say that no other president has hit partisan tones or that none have appealed nakedly to their ideological base. But, the dedication to division that Trump seems unable to escape by far outpaces anything his predecessors employed.
The blatant division alone would be enough for me to emphasize. Trump’s first State of the Union was so poor that my red editing pen is just getting started.
Another clearly faulty part of the president’s speech was the assault on truth through a series of blatant lies and moving on to a healthy dose of misrepresentation of fact.
Fact checkers around the globe were in frantic overtime throughout and following the president’s delivery finding dozens of such problems.
Of course, past presidents have certainly not been completely honest. Where Trump makes his divergence is in the frequency and depth of his misrepresentations.
Whether it was false claims about job creation, United States energy exports, the size and impact of recent tax cuts or the steady stream of misrepresentations related to immigration, this speech was long on distortions and short on reality.
Of course this pattern, coming from an administration that entered its term a year ago by introducing the phrase “alternative facts”, should be no surprise even if it is wholly frustrating to those hoping for a functional government and society.
The question we are seeking an answer to, however, is how to move past or around a president so dedicated to division and distortion?
While I’d be delighted to share a simple fix, the last point about the president’s speech is an enormous roadblock to progressing past his divisive and distorted nature.
Every breath, phrase and decision Donald Trump takes and makes is dedicated to one aim. Dedicated to the service of one person. Dedicated to the service of one ego. His.
Division allows his fragile psyche validation. Distortion further creates division and the alternate reality by which he can see his every move as “tremendous” and anyone who disagrees as wrong.
Quite unfortunately, many of the people closest to Trump are unable or unwilling to challenge his ego or his insecurity.
Instead they employ some combination of silence, misguided encouragement, protection or deflection and continue to enable this personally and professionally dangerous behavior.
As the leader of the Trump organization perhaps this could simply be normal operating, but as president of the United States the stakes are too high if they continue unchecked.
The State of the Union speech delivered last week was far too divisive, far too distorted from reality, and far too self-serving to one person’s massive and insecure ego.
If those were the aims of the speech, then perhaps it was an internal success but as a useful exercise in unifying the United States and moving our nation toward a successful future it was and is a tragic failure of leadership.
Don Kusler is national director of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the nation’s most experienced progressive advocacy organization. Readers may write him at ADA, 1629 K Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20006.