Posts Tagged ‘State of the Union’

STATE OF DISUNION

Tuesday night, as always, I watched the State of the Union address. As always, I suffered. I drew two conclusions: You’ve seen one State of the Union, you’ve seen almost all. And, it’s time to amend the SOTU, mandated by the Constitution’s article II, section 3, with seven new rules:

1. 30-minute time limit. Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie” can tell a story in 30 minutes or less, so can our president. For that matter, Congress has passed some legislation in less time. A president who can’t reduce his/her lofty platitudes to half an hour should one million dollars of campaign funds per overtime minute. At the 35-minute mark, TV and radio networks should be forced off the air. Disclosure: My mind turned to jelly well before 60 minutes into you-know-who’s 82-minute address.

2. No guests. This emotional manipulation is no less obscene than corporations’ TV commercials, which deliver platitudes but no specifics about what said corporations are doing to right the wrongs they’ve done—like overcharging for drugs and wrongfully foreclosing on people’s homes. Besides, TV’s few remaining soap operas appear mornings and afternoons. Disclosure: My mother Blanche was a big soap fan.

3. No standing or applauding. Do presidents and their staffs take us for fools? The answer is obvious. Members of Congress in the president’s party stand and whoop at least every sixty seconds while members of the opposition party sit on their hands. Except when the president forces the opposition to endorse motherhood, apple pie and the flag. Well, the flag gets contentious. What a waste of time. I could be watching Sports Center or the Warriors’ pre-game show.

4. No chanting, “USA! USA!” I’ll wager with anyone that the members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military joint chiefs and assorted hangers-on know that they—and most of us—are citizens of the United States of America. If they’re unsure prior to the performance, they can check their passports. One allowable exception: Homer Simpson doing the chanting. If the White House and Congress are going to produce a comedy, they should do it right.

5. No bragging. Dramamine, please! It’s hard to escape the nausea caused by presidents regaling us with their fantastic accomplishments—all seasoned (i.e. skewed, slanted, distorted) with half-lies, outright lies and statistics. One bright spot: Many people get paid well by the media to serve as fact-checkers and shed light on presidential falsehoods ranging from slight to egregious. They get plenty of overtime, too. America needs growth industries.

6. No platitudes. Forget what I wrote in #1. Everyone agrees on national security, a growing economy and good infrastructure along with affordable healthcare and educational opportunities. Besides, if the state of the union is always strong, why do presidents keep carping on these issues? 

7. Eliminate calls for bipartisanship. More Dramamine! Presidents lead and are beholden to their parties. Sure, bipartisanship can bind many of our nation’s wounds. But the time to call for it is when presidential and congressional candidates stump for their parties’ nominations . . . Finished laughing? 

Let me know if you want to add anything—like a president who shuts down the government or rails against being investigated not being allowed to give the next year’s SOTU on Capitol Hill. That might unite us all.

Do away with the State of the Union altogether? Check Kevin Williamson’s “Great Caesar’s Ghost” in National Review (1-28-14). Thanks to Ron Eaton for sending it my way.

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THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Delivering his first State of the Union address, Donald Trump stuck to his script. Although often wandering from the truth, he saluted an improved economy and painted a rosy picture of his presidency and the future. Beware! The real state of the union is far gloomier.

Trump’s speech featured heavy doses of self-congratulation. It also engaged in shameless pandering with guests sobbing on camera as Trump told stories of violent crimes committed against their families. Still, seventy-five percent of people who heard the address approved. But Trump did no more than present a Potemkin Village.

A more accurate portrait of this presidency emerges from the ongoing lies, attacks on American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and inability to deal straightforwardly with Congressional leaders—of both parties.

In terms of breaking news, Trump continues trying to thwart the Mueller commission’s investigation into his connections to Russia. This morning, Devin Nunes (R-Cal.), chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a memo written by his staff casting a negative light on the FBI. Bureau director Christopher Wray—chosen by Trump to replace the fired James Comey—had condemned releasing the memo, as did leading members of Congress, intelligence experts and journalists. They believe the memo to be out of context and distorted. They fear it will reveal Bureau sources and methods, putting American intelligence operatives at risk. Trump permitted its release.

Back to the State of the Union and something you may have missed. Trump concluded by calling for Americans to maintain “trust in our God.” Our God? Do all Americans believe in the same God? If they believe in God at all?

Given Trump’s support by ecumenical Christians, I assume he referred to Jesus. I’m a Jew. Jesus isn’t my God—or the God of American Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others. “Our God” is not the God of Israel, Saudi Arabia, India and Japan. Vladimir Putin promotes Russia, despite its large Muslim population, as a Christian (Orthodox) nation, but referencing “our God” can only heighten tensions with China, Iran and North Korea. Will our God battle their Gods?

The comment served to send a clear message to the Trump base: that America remains a white, Christian nation. That, re Charlottesville, Virginia, “good people” can march alongside white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That immigrants from Haiti and Africa really do come from “shithole” countries.

For Trump, the State of the Union was all about money—with no acknowledgment of Barack Obama’s role in moving the economy forward. Economic growth is good. Mammon is not.

This week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Jethro), presents the Ten Commandments. The commentary Etz Chayim examines the (Jewish) First Commandment, “I am the Lord your God who brought out of the land of Egypt.” Egypt, a nation of great wealth, was the house of culture, science and mathematics. All good. But for Israel, it was the house of bondage. The scholar Benno Jacob (1862–1945) comments, “If freedom and culture cannot coexist, we should bid farewell to culture for the sake of freedom.” Money cannot be “our God”.

Trump continues to widen American divisions. No matter how strong the economy, bigotry and hatred—espoused and supported by the president of the United States—can only turn America into Pharaoh’s Egypt. And we know how that story turned out.

As I publish, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average has plummeted over 800 points since last Friday. Will Mr. Trump, as the force behind the American economy, accept responsibility for this?

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LOYALTY AND BETRAYAL

Something ordinary drew my attention during President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. The ordinary being rather sense numbing, most Americans undoubtedly noticed but had no particular response. We should all be concerned.

If you saw the speech on TV, you know that Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican, responded quite differently. Mr. Biden smiled, applauded almost every remark made by the President and rose often to his feet. Mr. Ryan looked pained. He stood only when Mr. Obama mentioned the military and applauded Mr. Obama’s goal of tackling poverty. Yet in the context of American politics, Mr. Ryan was not acting up.

When Republican presidents have addressed Congress with a Republican VP and a Democratic Speaker behind him, the results have been the same. So there’s no good party and bad party here. What we have is a crisis of loyalty overriding the general welfare.

Yes, we all have our loyalties. They begin with our family, extend to our friends, houses of worship, clubs, political parties certainly, cities and states. If you’re an ethnic, you have a certain loyalty to your country of ethnic, or in my case religious, origin. But at what point do the positives of loyalty—assisting others, advocating for fairness and justice, and making sacrifices—become betrayal?

Three incidents struck me in this regard. Two took place hours before the State of the Union. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces commandeered two American Navy boats and their crews—ten sailors in all—near an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf. When CNN host Wolf Blitzer interviewed Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Blitzer mentioned the White House saying that the incident didn’t seem to be hostile. Mr. Cotton nearly went ballistic: President Obama was not only clueless but actually defending Iran. What would you expect? That’s the Republican Party line. Less than 24 hours later, Iran released the boats and their crews.

The second matter struck me during the CBS Evening News. White House correspondent Major Garrett reported that Senator John McCain (R–Arizona) had considerable differences with Donald Trump but would support Trump if he were nominated for the presidency and won that office. The inference: Loyalty to party takes precedence, even if it includes accepting a distasteful candidate.

Finally, when President Obama mentioned the military, almost all Republicans stood. That was the only time they did so. Surely the President offered a few thoughts worthy of praise. But party loyalty demands that Republicans recognize Democratic ideas at their own risk. The Republican base along with billionaire donors to Political Action Committees (PACs) can oust incumbents in primaries not because they can’t win but because they won’t repeat the far-right mantra.

In 1816 Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779–1820) offered an after-dinner toast: “Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!” At what point does demonstrating uncompromising loyalty betray the ideals we profess, in effect throwing the nation under the bus?

In 1872, U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (1829–1906) took a different approach. “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz got it.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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