clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trump reportedly tried to edit the State of the Union to make it meaner to Democrats

The 2019 State of the Union was supposed to be a unity speech, per the White House. Oops!

President Trump, with a document that isn’t the 2019 State of the Union but serves as an acceptable visual stand-in.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, scheduled for 9 pm ET Tuesday, was supposed to be a unity speech. Early spin from the White House was that Trump was supposed going to reach across the aisle, make nice with Democrats after a bruising shutdown fight, and look for policies that could build common ground.

But according to a new report from the New York Times’s Peter Baker, that’s all nonsense. Trump may mouth words of unity during the speech, but behind the scenes he’s been raring to pick a partisan fight. Here’s the key part of Baker’s piece:

Still stung by his failure to use a partial government shutdown to pressure Congress into paying for his border wall, Mr. Trump has hardly been in the mood for collaboration with the other party, anyway. As he and his team have drafted his address in recent days, he has groused about the text, complaining that it is too gentle on Democrats, according to people briefed on the matter.

The president has sought to sharpen various lines, and while aides have urged him to congratulate Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her ascension after the November midterm elections, which handed control of the House to Democrats, they were not entirely clear that he would.

What this underscores, as Baker implies, is that any talk of unity is a con job — and a pretty transparent one at that. In both of his previous State of the Union addresses, Trump has made gestures toward bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle. We know what happened after that, and there’s no reason to think this one will be different.

American politics is profoundly polarized, with the Republican Party drifting in a particularly extreme direction under the guidance of a leader whose political style is more similar to elected authoritarians like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán than any American president in recent history. There is increasingly little room for compromise, and Trump has neither strong political incentives nor the personal inclination to do so. No speech can change this fundamental reality.

You can watch a live stream of the State of the Union starting at 9 pm on the White House YouTube channel.