February 1, 2018 10:42:46 AM
This year's State of the Union address was in line with past ones: a tedious and bloated exercise in Washington pageantry that ate up a lot of cable news time despite its almost complete irrelevance to how Americans will actually be governed. But those are not the real problems. The real problem is that it happens only once a year.
Donald Trump gave a bravura performance. By that, I mean he used the occasion to prove that he can show up and read carefully vetted lines off a teleprompter without hurling juvenile insults at his critics, pledging allegiance to Vladimir Putin or sexually assaulting any women. If you squinted your eyes just a bit, he looked like a reasonable approximation of a higher primate.
That was enough to satisfy many in the audience. Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, exulted, "His speech was moving. It was reasonable. It was bipartisan. And it worked." Never mind that anyone who wrote speeches for George W. Bush is used to setting the bar low. The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal praised it as "a disciplined performance." Ted Cruz looked as though he was going to dance a jig.
This address was larded with even more self-congratulation than the usual from the Fifth Avenue Fabulist. He regards himself as a miracle worker for managing not to derail an economic recovery that began nine years ago. He took credit for things that happened before he was elected. He acted as though African-Americans owe him a debt of gratitude.
But in this grand setting, Trump was able to restrain his worst impulses. He didn't accuse honest journalists of putting out "fake news." He didn't offer kind words for neo-Nazis. Any day he doesn't use the term "son of a bitch" for a protesting NFL player is a good day.
Yes, the address was an empty distraction that won't get legislation through Congress or overcome partisan divisions. But in the era of Trump, empty distractions are something to be embraced, not avoided.
Under his predecessor, I argued that the entire ritual of presidents personally appearing before a joint session of Congress to report on the national condition should be retired. If Trump has accomplished nothing else, he has changed my mind. Waiting 12 months between these spectacles is too much.
In fact, waiting one month is too much. My proposal is that Congress issue an invitation to the president to appear on Capitol Hill every week to update the lawmakers and the public on how tremendous everything is under his brilliant leadership. I for one cannot get enough of Trump doing his best to look solemn and statesmanlike before a national audience.
There is no obvious reason he couldn't make this a weekly gig. The Constitution obligates the president to "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."
"From time to time" could be once every century or three times a day. I say let's compromise at 52 times per year.
What would this achieve? Several things. The first is it would satisfy the real impulses that motivated Trump to seek the presidency: commanding attention, soaking up camera time and feeling like the most important person in the solar system.
Judged by how he handles the other duties of the office, this is in his wheelhouse. He can't stand to read memos, lacks patience for briefings, and can't be bothered to bone up on issues enough to negotiate with foreign leaders or members of Congress.
What he likes is occupying a conspicuous place of importance and basking in applause. A raucous rally in Huntsville, Alabama, does the same, but in a State of the Union address, the gravity of the setting is enough to deter Trump from letting his more primitive desires take over.
After each performance, he could go back to the White House, take congratulatory phone calls and watch the adoring coverage on Fox News Channel. By the time he's done all that and played a few rounds of golf, it would be time for him to start getting ready for the next appearance. He might even forget to tweet.
The State of the Union is a huge waste of time. And wasting time is the best thing Trump can do.
Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13.