In the annals of American political showboating, it’s tough to top the annual circus called the State of the Union message. Mandated by the Constitution—and at first delivered to Congress in written form—it has metastasized since the Wilson Administration into a full-blown political rally, celebrating not the party in power, but the president of the United States personally. Once a year, at the invitation of the Speaker of the House, he commands the attention not only of the Congress, but also members of the Supreme Court. It’s the nearest thing we have to a monarchical moment: all pomp and damn little circumstance, offering a president the chance to reel off, at stupefying length, a laundry list of policy prescriptions that have almost no chance ever of being realized. In short, the hot air that keeps the Capitol dome inflated doesn’t get much hotter than this.
This year, however, may be different. In their ongoing tug-of-war over the partial government shutdown, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has decided to stick her thumb in the eye of President Donald Trump and, citing security concerns, has asked him to delay his scheduled January 29 State of the Union address until the government re-opens or, alternatively, send it up the Hill in writing, as every president from George Washington to William Howard Taft did.
What a good idea.
The key to understanding what the SOTU was meant to address in the first place can be found in its Article II constitutional wording, which states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Accordingly, early presidents concentrated on the nuts-and-bolts of government, including budget requests, the general economy, and other mundane matters.
It wasn’t until Wilson, who prior to the election of Barack Obama was the most “progressively” radical president we’d ever had, that the annual message started morphing into the thing we know today—a full-throated advertisement for the president’s foreign and domestic policies, symbolizing the shift of power from the legislative branch to the executive.
Now, thanks to Pelosi, Trump has an opportunity to turn it into something else altogether: an actual report on the “State of the Union.” As Pelosi’s sidekick, U.S. Representative Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), cracked: “the state of the union is off.” Boy, is it ever.
As Pelosi suggested, Trump can easily send a written report to the Congress. He should do just that. Even better, he can then take his disinvitation and move the venue elsewhere. He could then deliver his speech from the Oval Office—although he just gave a short talk from behind the Resolute Desk. Or, he could take it to Trump Country, and find a 50,000-seat stadium somewhere in Indiana or Texas and rock the house; if the SOTU is little more than a campaign speech in disguise, might as well go whole hog.
Or, more audaciously, he could take it into the heart of Progville—San Francisco, say, or Chicago, or his hometown of New York City—and let his political opponents see just how many folks even in their own constituencies agree with him. As the victorious Roman consuls and commanders knew, there is much to be said for triumphalism, just as long as there is always the one slave, riding in the quadriga behind the victorious Caesar, holding the laurel wreath above his head while whispering in his ear: “Memento homo”—remember, you are only a man.
And what should he say? That the State of the Union is notgood, and is not emotionally strong. That after nearly 75 years of cultural-Marxist battering at the doors of all the major American institutions, half the country thinks its own nation is fundamentally illegitimate; that it was founded in venality and exploitative racism and sexism, for the purpose of establishing “white privilege” in North America—and no amount of evidence to the contrary will persuade them otherwise. That as faith has foundered, a new, secular religion has arisen, whose first burnt offerings were wafted aloft by the Wilson Administration, a government of experts celebrating a rule by the elites, a faith in which any gender could grow up to be president, as long as that gender went to Yale or Harvard.
More: that the other half of country has finally had its manners and its good will tested long enough; that it liked the way we used to be, and saw nothing either evil or exploitative about our country. That it resents the influx of Marxist professors—vipers, whom it welcomed as refugees—who via their sacred tenet of Critical Theory encouraged their naïve charges to pull down the pillars of American society. All the social troubles we have witnessed since, from the Weather Underground to the current racial and sexual unrest, derives from them. But wrapped in their false flag of “real patriotism,” they demand that the impossibly perfect always be the enemy of the good, and ascribe only villainy to their opponents.
He should say that the bloated federal bureaucracy is far too large and expensive, and that he will begin reductions in force as soon as practicable. He should say that trillion-dollar deficits—at a time of record tax revenues—prove not that taxes are too low but that government is too big, and that henceforth all extra-constitutional functions will be wound down, including the regulatory agencies created by Congress, until we at least reach some stasis point.
He should assert the equality of all three branches of government when it comes to interpreting and defending the Constitution, inform the lesser federal judges that they have no power over the executive acting either in his constitutional administrative capacity or as commander-in-chief, and tell them that henceforth he will ignore restraining orders and injunctions that are, in his opinion, unconstitutional, until such time as they are adjudicated by the Article III-established Supreme Court (the only federal court not established by Congress, as it happens).
Most important, he should say that the state of our union in a time of Cold Civil War is weak, but could once again be strong if we accept that we are all Americans, benefiting from the same system of government and living in the same blessed land, and that the sooner we remember that, the better. That we don’t have to be prisoners of imported central-European Marxism. That the genius of the American Founding was precisely that it was not ideological, systemic, academic, or programmatic, but based simply on the notion of individual freedom and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”—a society built from the bottom up, not the top down.
In that way, the president can extend an olive branch to his enemies, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” as Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural, and try to turn the corner on the bitterness of the 2016 election. The Trump election signaled a desire for a sea-change and, now that things have come to this pass, it’s time to sink the showboat on the Potomac and move on.