The State of the Union? Words fail by Marjorie Arons-Barron

A scorpion asks a frog to take it across the river. The frog fears the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion talks a good line, saying that, if he did sting the frog, they’d both drown. So, in the spirit of collaboration, the frog consents. Mid-stream, the scorpion does sting the frog.  As they’re going down, the frog asks why. His passenger replies, “because I am a scorpion.”  In other words, that’s who he is. It’s his fundamental nature.

Last night, Donald Trump did say a lot of the right things in his State-of-the-Union address, especially in the first half. “Ready to work with (Congress). “not as two parties but as one nation.”  “not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American people.” And there were issues he cited with potential to achieve that goal: building a stronger middle class, improving health care, including lowering drug prices and protecting people with pre-existing conditions, addressing HIV AIDS and childhood cancer, and paid parental leave. Could this signal a new era of comity?

The devil, of course, scorpion-like, is in the details.  Trump’s previous infrastructure proposal left 80 percent of the funding for eligible projects to the states, rather than have the federal government finance that percentage.  Contrary to his health care promises, his actions have been geared to dismantling the Affordable Care Act, and under his Presidency fewer Americans are now insured. So we don’t know how many of his bromides will be shaped into meaningful programs and policies.

Underneath the positive talk,  the real Donald Trump was there from the moment he snubbed Speaker Nancy Pelosi by not allowing her to give the Speaker’s traditional introduction of the President.  The real Donald Trump was there in his bombastic twisting of economic accomplishments. He took credit for doubling our economic growth when the surge started under Barack Obama.  African-American unemployment, for example, was down nine percent under Obama and an additional one percent under Trump.  Women’s participation in the workforce has not kept pace with that in other countries and is down here from what it was in April of 2000.  Of the 5.3 million new jobs he said he has created, how many of those are people having to hold down two or even three jobs to make ends meet?

And, summoning up the ghost of Richard Nixon’s “one year of Watergate is enough,” the real Donald Trump denounced the prospect of Congressional oversight as “ridiculous partisan investigations.”  It is not in his nature to appreciate our Constitutional system of checks and balances, which he didn’t have to deal with in his first two years in office when Republicans controlled both house of Congress. Trump was right in saying, “We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” But, clearly, greatness for him is doing things his way. Compromise is alien to his nature.

Most telling was his full-throated recycling of his speech on the border wall, his incendiary language about the invasion by caravans of terrorists, drug dealers and MS-13 gang members threatening the security of our country.  With all the tribute he paid to his guests in the hall, he said not one word about the burdens he thrust on some 800,000 federal workers during the pay-less government shutdown he executed. Chilling also was his two-line distortion of a new New York law that he said “allowed a baby to be ripped from its mother’s womb moments from birth.” In fact, the law provided for abortions beyond 24 weeks if necessary to save the life of the mother or if the fetus is not viable.

This is a President who likes to tear up longstanding treaties and destroy international alliances. Recently turning his back on the Reagan-Gorbachev nuclear arms agreement signals a return to the Cold War arms race. Not once did he mention the issue of climate change, arguably the greatest long-term threat to our national security.

Until Woodrow Wilson presented his annual message to Congress in person in 1913, all previous Presidents had reported on the state of the union in writing.  Would that Trump had proceeded in that way.  But now he has spoken, and we have listened.  The copies of his 82-minute-long presentation will end up in the shredder along with all his other exaggerations, lies, misrepresentations, hyperbole and false promises. And that’s just where they belong.