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Donald Trump's State of the Union address showed us his grip on power is much weaker than his Twitter feed implies

Most of the stats Trump has been using to cite his economic prowess are actually indicative of the Obama administration’s successful policy agenda – and his standout phrase was stolen from Hillary Clinton

Nash Riggins
Wednesday 31 January 2018 11:39 GMT
Donald Trump claps at his own State of the Union speech

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


America’s annual State of the Union address is one of the most baffling charades in contemporary politics. For about an hour each year, the leader of the free world stands up in front of Congress, puffs out his chest and sings from the rooftops about all the weird and wonderful things he’s got cooking in the oven.

It’s sort of like the Queen’s speech – if the Queen rode in on a bald eagle with Bruce Springsteen blaring in the background, and half of the audience looked like they’d just swallowed their own vomit.

The State of the Union is Washington’s premier bragathon. It gives the President and his political party a gleaming opportunity to make love to the cameras and brag about everything they’ve achieved so far, all the cool things they’ve got planned for the months to come and why their political rivals are complete and utter idiots.

Translation: it should be Donald Trump’s wet dream.

After all, everybody knows the guy can’t go 20 minutes without trying to convince the world how great he is. The former reality TV star is a gaudy showman, and razzle and dazzle are his bread and butter. That’s why so many pundits had been anxiously counting down the days to Trump’s first State of the Union address.

But when Trump stepped up to the podium Tuesday night to address the nation, that signature showmanship and innate desire to incite controversy and division were sorely lacking. He stayed pretty much 100 per cent on script, kept his stern glare glued directly to his teleprompters and sounded almost suspiciously... statesmanlike.

Trump had promised lawmakers to expect a bipartisan tone – and to be honest, it was the closest he’s ever come to it. He hinted at compromise over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and told the cameras this was our “new American moment”, and that we had to capture it. Believe it or not, he actually stole that line from Hillary Clinton, but whatever.

Somewhere, deep in the bowels of the White House, Trump’s haggard handlers are cracking open the bubbly and weeping with sheer, unadulterated glee.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though.

A smooth delivery means diddly-squat if your messaging is filled to the brim with obtuse claims and bigoted rationales for vague legislative promises. And it’s fair to say we can split most of the first-year wins Donald Trump bragged about last night into one of two categories: good things other people have done that he wants us to think he’s responsible for, and horrible things he’s done that he wants us to believe are actually good things.

As always, the President’s swagger stick of choice last night was money.

Over and over again, Trump boasted about America’s improving economy, raging stock markets and dissipating unemployment rate. The way Trump tells it, he inherited a bloody mess from Barack Obama, and the GOP’s sweeping tax reforms for the rich are directly linked to the nation’s economic rally.

The truth? Most of the stats Trump has been using to cite his economic prowess are actually indicative of the Obama administration’s successful policy agenda – and according to pollsters, half of voters already know Trump is full of it without even needing a fact-check. Trump’s tax cuts he was singing about last night are hurting just as many people as they’re helping, and the job-creating deregulation he boasted about has already devastated America’s natural environment.

Democrats looked on in disgust as Trump proudly declared his administration had “ended the war on clean coal” and boasted about his influence over the opening of a couple new car factories that have actually been in the works since before he assumed office. He simply couldn’t resist linking immigration to drugs and gang violence, either.

But at the end of the day, the biggest surprise from last night’s State of the Union address was that there were no surprises. Donald Trump’s speech writers essentially transformed a compilation of his tamest tweets into one big, party-approved rant. Trump’s minions never stopped clapping, the Democrats spent all night chuckling with derision and Washington’s political machine just kept on spinning.

The only ray of sunshine to be had last night was in watching some of Trump’s minor actors refusing to play their roles. As always, the President’s political party hopped up and down all night – offering a standing ovation after each item in the brag book. Yet as the cameras panned across the chamber last night, it was easy to spot a handful of Republicans who simply couldn’t bring themselves to stand for every one of their President’s alleged achievements.

That’s not a lot to pin your hopes and dreams on – but if nothing else, Donald Trump’s first ever State of the Union address demonstrated to the world just how hollow his premiership really is. More important still, it showed us that his grip on power is a lot weaker than his Twitter feed might have us believe.

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