Wednesday, January 31, 2018


The State of the Union address was last night, and I'm pleasantly surprised at the tone of mainstream coverage. Many of us have spent days anticipating that Trump would read a mostly reasonable-sounding speech off a Teleprompter and then the press would swoon, in anticipation of a pivot to bipartisanship and maturity that, of course, will never arrive. I think our complaints were heard in newsrooms, or maybe the red-meat parts of Trump's speech were just too divisive, or perhaps, after a year of Trump as president, the press has learned that any seemingly good behavior won't last. Whatever the reason, the coverage today is surprisingly skeptical.

Here's CNN's front page right now:

Here's the editorial-page lineup as it appears on the front page of the New York Times site:

Peter Baker's front-page analysis of the speech in the Times is wary:
When he took office, President Trump painted a bleak picture of a country ravaged by economic turmoil, a landscape of “American carnage,” as he so memorably put it. A year later, he presented the nation on Tuesday night with a different narrative, one of a booming economy and a “new American moment.”

The stock market has “smashed one record after another.” Retirement accounts have “gone through the roof.” Companies are “roaring back” to the United States. “We haven’t seen this in a long time,” he exulted from the rostrum of the House chamber as he delivered his first formal State of the Union address. “It’s all coming back.”

Never mind that in some fundamental ways the economy is growing no faster than it did at points during President Barack Obama’s second term. Mr. Trump is at heart a salesman, and he rarely lets details get in the way of a good story. And by some measures, he has managed to convince many Americans, especially corporate leaders, that the economy really is surging in a way it has not for years.

The challenge for Mr. Trump is that even as he sells the economy with the fervor of a real estate developer, he has not been able to sell himself. His approval ratings remain at historic depths, and effectively unchanged after a year in office. His success at passing tax cuts and the continued progress of the economy he inherited have not changed the dismal views that a sizable majority of Americans hold of their president.
At Politico, John Harris and Matthew Nussbaum suggest that they wish they could believe, but they know it's futile:
Think of it as the What-If Presidency.

What if he had not spent a year compulsively lashing his opponents and taking steel wool to the country’s cultural, ideological and racial wounds? What if a special prosecutor did not have his sights locked on the administration over possible electoral collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice?

And what if—perhaps the biggest stretch of all—Trump somehow brought to heel the impulsiveness and improvisation that define his politics and replaced these, even partly, with strategic purpose?

The 80 minutes Trump stood at the House Speaker’s lectern suggest an answer: He would be in a commanding position in American politics after one year in power, with his own party firmly locked down and Democrats on the defensive.

The speech also illuminated how well-positioned he would be to fortify his standing in the year ahead.
Is that true? Would a president who'd pushed through an agenda as conservative as Trump's but who wasn't like Trump be riding high in public opinion now? The press surely would have been more willing to sell that hypothetical president to us, and much of America might have been ready to buy.

But Trump is a tough sell:
Okay, now. Time to snap out of it.

The upbeat view of Trump’s potential ... requires willfully ignoring other political and psychological realities.

... The psychological reality, as many of the Republicans tied most closely to Trump well know, is that he could not stay in State of the Union mode—or stay away from Twitter tirades—if he tried.

Trump may have been disciplined during the State of the Union speech, said a senior GOP leadership aide on Capitol Hill – but, this person added, “None of that matters if he goes back and tweets crazy shit.”
The front page of the Washington Post site gives us this:
President Trump, whose first year in office saw near-constant turmoil and division, issued a call for unity in his address. But the tone was sharply at odds with the combative manner in which he has conducted his presidency — and the tension between Republicans and Democrats was evident as Trump spoke.
In the Post's lead story, the speech is already subsumed by other events:
President Trump’s call for unity ran headlong Wednesday into the divided politics of the moment, as Democrats redoubled criticism of his policies and apparent promises by Trump to release a controversial Republican memo alleging abuses by the Department of Justice.

Trump, speaking to Congress Tuesday night in his first State of the Union address, set an ambitious agenda and called for the two parties to come together to better serve the public. His remarks were sharply at odds with the combative manner in which Trump has conducted his presidency so far.

Walking off the House floor after his speech, Trump was caught on video telling Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) that he would “100 percent” release a classified GOP-drafted memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI.
The speech didn't work. Apart from the deplorables, the plutocrats, and the pols who gull the former on behalf of the latter, nobody fell for it.

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