Just past the halfway point of his term Tuesday night, President Donald Trump addressed a nation increasingly torn apart and set on edge by President Donald Trump.
Never before has the United States been so anxious and angry and out of sorts, with so little concrete reason. To judge by the tenor of dinner-table conversations and the tone of online debate, you’d think we are facing a systemic threat to our nation and our future.
If we are facing such a threat, and we may well be, it’s not like any other danger we’ve seen in our lifetimes.
We are not involved in a large-scale war, and we almost certainly do not face an imminent military attack on the homeland. There has been no significant foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. No other nation can come close to challenging our military and economic power, and our most significant rivals, Russia and China and the European Union, are increasingly struggling even as we glide through comparatively smooth waters.
We are not in a depression, or even a recession. Unemployment, at about 4 percent, is near a 50-year low. The stock market is doing fairly well, and while economic headwinds are beginning to blow, the general economic mood is strong.
But when Trump took the podium on front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi he did so two weeks late, having been blocked from delivering his second State of the Union speech by a fake national emergency of his own creation, a behavior which hints at our real national emergency.
Two years in, Trump lies consistently, purposely uses divisive rhetoric to manipulate the nation, always belittles his opponents, often belittles his allies and frequently changes his mind on policy.
What does the State of the Union speech of such a man mean? How is the media supposed to cover it? What should the nation take from it? How should enemies and allies alike respond to it?
Trump argues that he gets a bad rap from the media, and in a twisted way it’s true. If any other president were presiding over such an era of relative peace and prosperity, they’d likely be hailed for it. Former President Barack Obama, in the final years of his presidency, did preside over a strengthening nation, and he was far more popular with both the public and the press.
The State of the Union is, at the moment, quite strong … if emotionally precarious.
The state of the president, distrusted even by elements of his own party, beleaguered by investigations that keep snaring his inner circle and increasingly understood by all Americans to be consistently dishonest in word, thought and deed, is quite weak.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.