With CHARLIE HARPER
Tuesday’s State of the Union speech by US President Donald Trump was worth watching. But not really for anything that was said. It became compelling political theatre for what wasn’t said.
First, Trump stayed clear of his impeachment trial in which the judge and jurors were his Tuesday audience. He sidled up to issues like gun control and right to life, but did not wade specifically into subjects such as proposals to ban automatic weapons or outlaw abortion.
He also largely avoided climate change, though he did extol the benefits of his administration’s deregulation and removal of economic impediments. The implication was clear enough. Nor did he gloat about the Iowa Democratic caucus blunders.
But Trump did throw down the gauntlet at his chief tormentor as he ascended the dais to faithfully read his well-prepared remarks. In handing a copy of his speech to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi per tradition, Trump refused her offer of a handshake.
The worst kept secret in the capital of leaks that is Washington DC is the irremediable animosity so clearly felt between Trump and Pelosi.
The House Speaker fidgeted, fussed and delivered some classic eye rolls as Trump rumbled on through a 78-minute dissertation on his historic achievements as President. Like many of her Democratic colleagues seated below the presidential platform, Pelosi appeared to be sometimes conflicted about whether or not to join her Republican colleagues in standing and applauding at some of the President’s remarks.
Lip readers caught her pantomiming “not true” on a few occasions. While the formal count is not yet in, it is very likely that fact checkers will identify numerous lies, errors and conscious omissions in the President’s speech.
Then, after it was all over, Pelosi stood and ripped in half her copy of Trump’s address.
It’s hard to see these two collaborating on whether to fly the American flag on the Fourth of July.
Anyone hoping for signs of bipartisan political revival in the US would be profoundly frustrated by what they witnessed on television Tuesday night. Even on the subject of repairing America’s sagging bridges and highways - which would seem to be a slam dunk win for both sides - hope faded.
It is possible to draw the conclusion that Trump won re-election on a night when he debased the nation’s highest civilian honour by having his wife drape the most divisive figure in American media with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rush Limbaugh, now stricken with virulent cancer, may deserve many accolades. It is hard to argue he deserves this one.
Even the honouree, known for an ego to match Trump’s own, seemed to be genuinely stunned at the award.
But Trump’s speech was well written, and the White House staff found enough touching stories to illustrate with personal appearances in the House gallery by a diverse assortment of American heroes.
Overall, Trump did pretty well, and he did better than many observers thought he would.
Speaking different languages when it comes to impeachment trial
With Trump’s impeachment acquittal by the Senate, unusual clarity and candour was also offered by another senator, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Murphy told reporters the impeachment trial “in so many ways crystallised the completely diametrically opposed viewpoints of Democrats and Republicans. We Democrats perceive Donald Trump and his corruption to be an existential threat to the US. The Republicans perceive the deep state and the liberal media to be an existential threat to the country.
“That dichotomy, that contrast, has been growing over the last three years, but this trial really crystallised that difference,” Murphy said.
“We were just speaking different languages, fundamentally different languages when it came to what this trial was about.”
One of America’s most astute political observers is the veteran New York Times columnist and consummate Washington insider Maureen Dowd. Winner of the Glamour magazine Woman of the Year award in 1996 and the Pulitzer Prize for political commentary in 1999, she is also the author of the 2005 bestseller “Are Men Necessary?” In building a successful career over many decades in the traditionally male-dominated world of Washington politics, Dowd has been a true trailblazer.
Writing about the impeachment process, she said on Sunday: “I feel like I have spent my career watching the same depressing dynamic that unspooled Friday night: Democrats trying, sometimes ineptly, to play fair, and Republicans ruthlessly trying to win.
“I watched the same thing with the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings (for his Supreme Court nomination in 1992). I watched it in the 2000 (presidential election) recount with Bush versus Gore. I watched it with the push by W. (President George W. Bush), Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to go to war in Iraq. I watched it with the pantomime of Merrick Garland (nominated in 2016 by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court).
“Democrats are warning Republicans that they will be judged harshly by history. But in the meantime, the triumphant Republicans get to make history.”
Here we go again?
Trump skates on after moving the Super Bowl winners out of Missouri
Elsewhere, what might have been a transformative week in American politics instead turned into something that feels much less than some had expected.
Trump, whose predecessors would likely have been excoriated for praising the “great state of Kansas” when in fact Sunday’s Super Bowl champions play in Missouri, skated once again without consequence or criticism.
“That’s just Trump being Trump,” seemed to be the general reaction, and the latest illustration of his inattentiveness and laxity was quickly forgotten.
Then, the president seemed to be the primary beneficiary of a colossal foul-up in the Democratic Party’s woeful mismanagement of the Iowa caucuses on Monday. While some conspiracy theorists continue to insist that malevolent hacking must have been behind the vote count mishaps that plagued the Hawkeye State’s quadriennial political popularity contest, the weight of the available evidence points to technical malfunctions with an app hastily developed by a Democratic Party consultant.
Former US Vice President Joe Biden didn’t do particularly well in Iowa. That should give Trump great satisfaction. His continual attacks on Biden over his son Hunter’s clearly unwarranted and lucrative contract with a Ukrainian company may have influenced voters.
If this is true - and Biden is in the end denied the Democratic nomination - Trump will have cleverly succeeded in derailing the man who still looks like his most formidable competition in the November elections.
Many observers see in these political attacks a clear pattern developing. Trump is taking a page from his own campaign playbook. Even as he and his political allies sabotaged Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign by relentlessly harping on her handling of the 2012 fatal attack on an American ambassador in Benghazi, Libya while she was US Secretary of State, now the Burisma drumbeat continues unabated.
Even the Republicans have finally acknowledged – quietly – that their endless investigations of Clinton’s conduct revealed no wrongdoing or malfeasance.
It would be a good bet that whatever investigations into Hunter Biden and Burisma that the GOP-controlled Senate or Trump-controlled Department of Justice launch now the impeachment issue has been settled will also yield no results.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsay Graham of South Carolina even admitted as much. He told reporters Friday: “I don’t think Biden is corrupt. He just needs to be investigated because the president was investigated (by Special Counsel Robert Mueller).”
It was a rare moment of candour from Graham. So we can expect no results from upcoming probes into Hunter Biden. No results, that is, except severe damage to the presidential hopes of his father.