President Trump gave his second State of the Union address Tuesday night, and only the most blinkered partisan could deny that the speech was a success. It was, in fact, the best speech this president has given in two years. Not since his inaugural address in January 2017 has he spoken so well on such an important stage to the concerns of ordinary Americans — as opposed to the conservative movement and his hardcore fan base.
In remarks that ran to about an hour and a half there were, by my count, some 78 standing ovations from members of the president's party and other guests. Many of these joined by Democrats as well. This was a tedious exercise, not least because getting up to clap for everything and everyone from the first lady to Buzz Aldrin to energy statistics made the whole thing last about twice as long as it might have otherwise. But the effect was unmistakable. Trump was working the crowd in front of him physically just as effectively as he was his intended television audience — i.e., the blue and purple-state moderates he needs in order to win again in 2020.
This is not to suggest that Trump's speech was without serious problems.
The president can say whatever he likes about the supposed "economic miracle" of our record-low unemployment, the modest increases in wages some workers are enjoying, and the would-be boom in manufacturing jobs. The truth is that, as I write this, General Motors and Ford are both planning on laying off thousands of employees, not because either company is insolvent —indeed both are healthily profitable — but because consultants have convinced them that doing so will increase their stock prices. This is not only immoral — it is unpatriotic. It was inexcusable for a president who decried the impact of NAFTA, mentioning states like Michigan and Ohio by name, not to address the greed and stupidity of those who have taken over our auto industry.
Then there was Trump's line about how, if he had not been elected in 2016, the United States would now be engaged in a major war with North Korea. It is hard to imagine this being the case, though it is probably the case that the limited progress in our relations with the Hermit Kingdom made by his administration would not have been achieved by his opponent — or by any conventional diplomacy. What is almost certainly true, however, is that if Hillary Clinton had won instead, the United States would not be leaving Syria or Afghanistan.
On the whole, though, Trump's remarks were careful, restrained, and, within the limits imposed by the format, even dignified. Around 90 percent of what he said was utterly uncontroversial. I defy anyone to point to even a single thing that could be considered offensive, except perhaps to murderers or terrorists or drug dealers or people who believe the moon landing was a hoax.
Trump said that men and women deserve to be able to take time away from work to be with their children after they are born, that prescription medications should be made cheaper, that the criminal justice system has failed African Americans. He praised the courage of police officers, World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors, and astronauts. He said that free trade has destroyed the American dream in the post-industrial Midwest and that "great nations do not fight endless wars." He said that all Americans, including infants in utero, are made in the image of God.
If Democrats want to run against Trump on the opposite of all these things, they should go ahead and try. They will lose. This is not a radical or far-right agenda. It is not in many parts even a Republican one, at least by the standards of the GOP in opposition under Barack Obama.
Eternal Trumpism has always been a carnival. But if even Democrats are jumping up and down, dancing, and giving each other high fives, the American people are not ready to get off the merry-go-round just yet.