After SOTU: The Country Is Still Divided


Leonard Zwelling

At 7 PM Eastern Time on February 5, I was in heaven. At least the heaven on Earth known as Cameron Indoor Stadium on the campus of Duke University for the tip-off of the basketball game between Boston College and the Duke Blue Devils. My head was not one hundred percent in the game. Fortunately, it needn’t have been for Duke to win. I was thinking about two hours ahead and a couple hundred miles away to Capitol Hill and the State of the Union Address that was to be given by President Trump later that night.

The Blue Devils made short work of the Eagles despite a rocky first half and we walked back to the Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club in time for me to listen to the SOTU on my phone in the bar. As a display of where the country’s head is at, all the TVs in the bar were tuned to other basketball games not the SOTU. Fueled by the Devils’ victory and the beer, most of the people in the bar, 90% men, could care less about politics. I guess I was the exception.

The post mortem of the SOTU Address has been a mixed bag. Mr. Trump gave a long speech extolling bipartisanship and the newly elected women in Congress while throwing a not-so-veiled threat at the Democrats about further investigations of his administration. He lambasted any attempt to create a socialist agenda for America, much to the chagrin of Bernie Saunders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). It was a big speech from someone who has given many small and petty ones and certainly did not harm him with his base. The question is what it did for the country going forward and for his chances in the final two years of his first term and whether or not there will be a second?

The conservative columnists in the Wall Street Journal generally liked the speech and the more liberal folks didn’t. That was predictable. I think the real questions are:

1. Will Mr. Trump come to some sort of deal with the Democrats to keep the government open beyond February 15 and somehow fulfill his pledge for a Wall?
2. Will any legislation of meaning on any subject be passed by the House led by Nancy Pelosi and her very coherent Democratic majority?
3. Will the Mueller investigation or some new ones in the House overwhelm the government and Washington, DC and preclude any progress a la 1973 and Watergate?

I cannot believe that Mr. Trump will let the government shut down again. But he will also not relent again and not get something for border security. The Dems ought to throw him a bone and give him the $1 billion or so they originally offered for whatever he wants to do with it and get DACA progress in return. There has to be a deal to be made. Make it.

There has to be room for compromise on some of the crucial issues facing the country. Infrastructure is key. We were so struck at how much better infrastructure—roads, airports, trains—are in Asia than they are here. We have to do better and this surely is an issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree on. It creates jobs and improves the life of Americans. It’s a win-win.

As far as the investigations are concerned, they could trump everything. If Mueller finally releases a report that shows that the Trump campaign did work with the Russians to conspire to win the presidency in 2016, then what? What if Don Jr. and Jared are indicted? Will Trump pardon his kin? Will he pardon himself? If he does either, will he resign? It would not be hard to come up with a scenario in which the trials and tribulations of the Trumps become the story and the only narrative in Washington thus shutting down any progress on legislation.

Finally, what happens if there is a real foreign crisis? Trump has not really had to deal with any acute pending disaster yet. If he pulls out of Syria and ISIS rises anew, then what? If Russia challenges more of its neighbors in Europe or really escalates a new arms race, then what will Trump do? Is North Korea really no longer a nuclear threat? And what about China looming out there challenging our place as the number one economy in the world. When they pass us, then what?

Mr. Trump gave a long speech with few details. This is not unusual for a SOTU Address. Now comes the hard part. Getting something done. Will he have plans to do this? What are they? Can he work with a divided Congress to make any progress? Or, will his own legal trouble and that of his friends and family overwhelm the White House as it overwhelmed the Nixon White House? Stay tuned. The answers to those questions will determine the answer to the biggest one of all. Who will be inaugurated on January 20, 2021?

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