If the guy who showed up on our TV screens playing the leader of the free world Tuesday night were actually the person acting as president of the United States for more than an hour here and there, we wouldn’t have much to worry about.
But he isn’t.
The President Donald Trump who delivered the State of the Union address, speaking graciously of bipartisanship, touting unity and affordable health care and middle-class tax cuts and a fair chance for these least among us, nodding with approval at his political opponents when opportunity allowed, was an imposter.
Only a few times did Trump’s day-to-day demeanor show through. Once, ignoring numerous confidants who’ve pleaded guilty to or been convicted of crimes thanks to the federal investigations swirling around his administration, he said: “If there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war in investigations.” Later in the speech Trump raised even more eyebrows when he claimed that were it not for his presidency, the United States would be at war with North Korea.
SOTU Trump heralded former prisoners of the Nazi death camps. Everyday Trump said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because “I like people who weren’t captured.”
SOTU Trump said he is “hoping we will govern not as two parties but as one nation.” Everyday Trump, in a meeting with TV news anchors earlier Tuesday, called former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. “dumb” and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York a “nasty son of a bitch,” and accused Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia of “choking like a dog.”
SOTU Trump said “I want people to come in our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come legally.” Everyday Trump consistently threatens to curtail traditional legal immigration paths like family-related migration, the visa lottery and asylum.
SOTU Trump cares deeply about rebuilding this nation’s infrastructure. Everyday Trump hardly ever mentions it, although it has tremendous bipartisan support.
Tuesday night’s speech is going to get pretty good reviews as pundits agree the tone was right and the delivery was more polished than in the past. But that kind of assessment entirely misses the point.
The demeanor that Trump wheels out for big speeches is a sham, and it’s one he can rarely maintain for more than 24 hours. The news event that interrupts the congratulatory reviews of his speech will be, more than likely, his own vicious and nonsensical attacks on his opponents, and we won’t have to wait long to hear them.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.