During his State of the Union message on Tuesday, Feb. 5, the American president showed a much more consensual personal style than he usually does.
The U.S. has a president who is unifying, equanimous and concerned with the common good. Unfortunately, this president speaks only once per year, during his State of the Union address. This characteristic is barely noticeable. Donald Trump fed people’s hopes that he would fully become president on Feb. 28, 2017, and again on Jan. 30, 2018. On Tuesday, Feb. 5, he showed himself once again capable of achieving new heights with his descriptions of stirring goals, such as overcoming AIDS “in the United States and beyond” within 10 years, or fighting children’s cancer. And he understood the need to separate himself from his narrow base to address a larger audience.
In foreign policy, Trump did not give up his unilateral stance, which destabilizes America’s old alliances and worries even Republicans, but he withheld from attacking too directly the weakened world order. In an allusion to American involvement in Afghanistan, he provided some evidence of support with his assurance that “great nations do not fight endless wars.” It remains to be seen whether Trump’s eagerness to end America’s engagement there will not impede the necessary debate on the issue, or even compromise the inevitable American post-withdrawal situation.
Calls for Unity
This once-yearly Trump has little in common with the usual one, however, who that very morning had told off Senate Minority Whip Chuck Schumer, and who, on Feb. 1, stated that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “should be ashamed of herself” for resisting him, and who accuses his opponents of conspiring to impose “radical socialism” on the United States to make it the northern Venezuela.
It would take a poor memory to believe in the president’s appeals for unity. Trump created a massive fiscal reform that was adopted in Dec. 2017 without ever involving the Democrats. Then, after pledging to honor a bipartisan immigration deal, he torpedoed it a year later as too lenient. Lastly, against the advice of responsible Republicans in Congress, he caused a partial federal government freeze that resulted in a fiasco for him 36 days later.
To America’s disadvantage, its president seems to come alive only while campaigning, when he can free himself from the dull facts of governing and substitute the fictions that he finds more appealing. Trump would do much better if he assumed the role of congressional orator more often, since the mid-term elections resulted in a rout of Republicans in the House, thus minimizing his 2016 victory. Finally, his dependence on a voter base that is mostly uneducated and older white males is no guarantee of re-election.
The American president can hope that competition among Democratic candidates without a clear victor will weaken a future contender. Yet, while he keeps pushing for a wall that only interests a minority of Americans, the Democrats have set the terms for a debate in which he is not in a position of strength, during what is called the “invisible primary” that runs up until the Iowa vote in a year’s time. In this, the issues of climate, social security and income equality are what concern most Americans. But he hardly spoke a word about them in his State of the Union address.