Tonight President Donald Trump gives his first speech to a joint session of Congress. It’s not being called a State of the Union speech, because by tradition a President is supposed to be in office a year before giving a State of the Union speech — but effectively, this speech is a SOTU.
I’m trying to decide whether to watch. As a general rule, I hate the bloviations and the planned standing ovations and the other political theater that has become part of any presidential speech to a joint session of Congress, and you’d be hard pressed to identify any SOTU speech that was especially memorable.
At the same time, even months after his election and weeks after his inauguration, I’m still having a difficult time comprehending that Donald Trump is the President. It’s like I’m expecting that somebody else will step out from behind a curtain. So maybe watching tonight’s speech, and seeing Trump walk down the aisle after the Sergeant at Arms of the United States House of Representatives bellows “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States,” will help to make Trump’s status as President more real.
I don’t expect Trump to say anything particularly meaningful, because that’s not what speeches to joint sessions of Congress are all about. Instead, they tend to be laundry lists of proposals that, for the most part, are never heard from again. When you think about it, the rapid-fire listing of initiatives that we often hear in such speeches is a lot more in line with Trump’s approach to speech-making than, say, what we expect from an inaugural address. He doesn’t need to try to develop flowery language or deliver memorable phrases. The SOTU and other presidential addresses to joint sessions are more like a CEO’s speech to shareholders at an annual meeting for a corporation.
Of course, the core purpose of the State of the Union is to discuss the state of the country, and even though this speech might not technically be a SOTU, we can expect President Trump to address that topic. Presidents tend to characterize the state of the union through their own lens, and often what they describe seems to have little to do with what many of us perceive. President Trump probably will say that we’ve got big problems in a number of areas. We’ll hear about immigration, and tax reform, and repealing Obamacare, and trying to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States, and the other themes that seem to be part of every Trump speech.
What do I think is the state of the union these days? If I had to describe it in one word, that word would be “divided.”