The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1.
This week, I watched some of the 21st century version of this requirement of our government, and concluded that it bore little resemblance to how I interpreted that constitutional requirement. It was a show for which P. T. Barnum would have been proud. It was preceded by daylong hype via the so -called TV news channels with hints of what might be said enhanced by releases of just enough information to stimulate curiosity in order to enhance the ratings very much as is done by other such productions. Many of the beautiful people were invited along with a few brave souls about whom tear jerking stories could be told. The show begins when the House Sergeant at Arms enters, and with the voice of a side show barker announces the arrival of the great one.
The trip to the podium is tedious, there is much handshaking, shoulder touching and ear whispering as our fearless leader proceeds to his microphone. One is left to wonder how many of those congratulants were the same ones who were insisting that Mr. Trump was unfit to fill the office a little over a year ago. But then as my Grandmother often said: one “needs to know which side of his bread is buttered”, and at this point in our history the butter is found on the right side of that aisle. Nevertheless, it is a great show, this year starring a very experienced showman. It does appear to me however that the message delivered in this latest show does not seem to follow the script as laid out in the constitution. In particular I noted the phrase “recommend to their consideration” denoting a humility and even submissiveness which was hard to find in this latest version.
Scholars agree that the office of presidency was initially meant to satisfy an administrative function. George Washington fearful that the presidency might be seen as authoritarian eschewed titles suggested by John Adams, such as his highness, his majesty etc. Having recently escaped from the grip of monarchical power, he insisted on being addressed simply as Mr. President, and I doubt that his State of the Union reports were in any way self-serving. The state of the Union requirement was usually satisfied by a written report until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson came up with the idea of using the radio as a means to garner public support for his agenda. With the exception of Herbert Hoover that practice was continued until 1947 when Truman discovered television, and the race toward pomp and circumstance was set in motion.
The process has evolved now to this carefully choreographed spectacle which competes with the Super Bowl for ratings. To say these things are politically motivated is an Olympic class understatement. I was struck with the responses of the audience as the democrats sat immobile while the republicans stood and cheered whatever Trump said. On the other hand, the democrats would not have agreed to applaud a statement in favor of motherhood or apple pie. Of course, when Obama was in office the reverse was true with the right side of the aisle doing cadaver impersonations while the democrats cheered their man except for the one instance when in Obama’s 2009 speech a congressman shouted out “you lie”! There was a time when such extremes were not seen, when there would be at least occasional applause from the other side of the aisle indicating that some thought independent of party affiliation was given to issues.
In spite of my continued bashing of partisanship, rest assured that I appreciate the value of a two-party system. Recently Mr. Trump gave another of his stump style speeches in which he called the democrats refusal to applaud his tax plan “treasonous”. Thank God in America such a form of dissent is not treason for in some places as in North Korea for example such behavior would be called treason, and result in a lot of hangings. In most communist or other authoritarian governments a “loyal opposition” is not tolerated, and without choice freedom does not exist. My complaint is that those whom we employ to run the country show more loyalty to their own political party than to their country. In the parties’ war with each other they seem to view negotiation as synonymous with surrender. Both democrats and republicans treat each other as evil, and diminish themselves with personal insults, thus disrespecting the office they hold. Meanwhile as the bickering continues many of the country’s problems are ignored, our friends are dismayed, and our enemies cheer.
Recently there has been talk of the potential for a constitutional crisis. Whatever that is, it sounds like serious stuff. This Presidential investigation has further widened the gap between the two parties, and it is difficult to imagine a positive outcome no matter what emerges. Mr. Trump has preempted any results unfavorable to him or his family with his conspiracy theories designed to undermine the credibility of the investigators, and has even gone so far as to demand an investigation of the investigators. Should it all end in impeachment of the savior in chief, who knows how his many loyal supporters would react? If he is vindicated Democrats will ponder the question as to how he got away with it. Meanwhile, the Russian interference in our elections which precipitated the investigation, and which is said to represent a real and present danger to our form of government is totally ignored (talk about Nero and his fiddle).
After having witnessed government in action for a good number of years, I have concluded that politics is all about power. Whenever we elect someone to office we are investing them with a certain amount of power. Humans being what they are, generally want more of everything, but especially power. The President of the United States is said to be the most powerful man in the world, and the question arises shouldn’t that be enough? History shows that it is not; therefor leading one to believe the hunger for power must be insatiable. There are some who have been willing to sacrifice bits of power for the common good, but that is uncommon enough to be noteworthy.
Feelings of helplessness among the electorate usually result in their willingness to cede power. Such feelings are fueled by crises which have allowed Presidents to become much more powerful than in the days of George Washington who took the job under duress, much preferring to get back to the farm. As commander in chief presidents were most powerful during wars. Other domestic crises such as the robber barons who Teddy Roosevelt took on, Franklin Roosevelt during the great depression, Reagan with the Iranian hostage crisis, and most recently the twin towers attack are examples of how people naturally look to someone who can take charge when things are not going well for them or they are frightened of things beyond their control. We now have a large group of citizens who feel disenfranchised, so it is little wonder that they search for someone other than a conventional politician, but rather one who will promise to fix everything.
Television has affected politics in much the same way as it did the state of the union address. Personality and personal appearance have become a much more important part of the political scene, so much so that politicians stand in line to appear on the news channels, and let us not forget those marvelous performances when committees manage to arrange for their meetings to be televised providing another opportunity for posturing and preening in front of the folks back home.
The creativeness of our political class was displayed just this morning when CNN greeted me with the heart warming news that your President (I deny ownership) has directed the pentagon to plan a military parade in D.C. There have been no decisions as to what date should be commemorated, but it is clear that it will be an opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate our military might, and for your President to stand on a podium saluting the troops in the manner of an array of dictators such as Kim un Jong. The avowed purpose of such a parade is to honor the troops, but others suggest it is to show Kim that “mine is bigger than yours”. Some cynics even suggest that the primary purpose is to honor Trump himself rather than the military. They point out that he had made a similar request for such a parade for his inauguration.
Regardless of what crises occur or threats we face it has been made clear that “The Show Must Go On”.