The Irish Times view on Trump’s State of the Union speech: weak, divisive and incoherent

This was unmistakably a president who senses his authority is waning

US President Trump called for unity at the annual State of the Union address. He also announced that he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 in Vietnam for second summit. Video: Reuters

 

Donald Trump’s second state of the union speech was a pastiche of the genre.

In an uncharacteristically reassuring, even tone, he paid ritualistic lip service to the demands of the occasion, his script sprinkled with assertions of American greatness, appeals for bipartisan co-operation and calls for national unity.

But in its substantive elements, the speech had precisely the opposite effect, feeding off the divisions of a riven country, alienating the opposition and starkly underlining the damage Trump has done to America’s standing in the world.

Trump, by turns combative and conciliatory, had some good ideas.

At one point, he even tried to cast himself as a feminist

His proposals for paid family leave and lower drug prices are long-overdue, while his desire for a large infrastructure Bill to repair and renew the country’s creaking roads and bridges should be supported by Democrats.

He pledged new funding to eradicate Aids and spoke of a campaign to reduce childhood cancers.

Yet this was unmistakably the speech of a weak president who senses, now that he is into the second half of his term and faced with an energised Democratic majority in the House, that his authority is waning.

Take Trump’s reflexive recourse to falsehoods and bluster. He claimed that the US economy is “far and away” the fastest-growing in the world, that his administration had cut more regulations in a shorter period of time than any other, and that 5.3 million jobs had been created since he took office. None of the above is true.

Where he seemed to believe he was projecting strength, instead he underlined his failings. For example, the news that he will hold a second meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was a reminder that he has yet to win any concessions from Pyongyang on nuclear weapons. Shamefully absent was even a mention of global warming, the biggest issue of our era.

A reconfigured Congress and a looming fight for re-election require Trump to speak to two audiences simultaneously. He must reassure the base while appealing for Democratic co-operation in Washington.

The result is pure incoherence. On one hand, he pledged a new law on “late-term abortion of children” and warned of a “tremendous onslaught” of migrants at the southern border. On the other, he urged the opposition to put party interests aside and find common ground.

At one point, he even tried to cast himself as a feminist, reflecting on the economic gains women have made in the past two years and cheering the election of so many – mainly Democratic – women in the House.

All this from a man who has paid hush money to a pornographic actress and has admitted on tape that he sexually assaulted women.

For all that, however, the speech contained an essential truth.

As a snapshot of a presidency two years in, its underlying messages – incoherence, weakness, division and disingenuousness – captured the moment perfectly.

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