This week, we were once again subjected to the annual ritual of the State of the Union speech.
And once again, many of us longed for that time when Presidents eschewed regal pomp and circumstance…and just sent Congress a letter to satisfy the Constitutional requirement that they periodically “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.”
Nevertheless, almost 46 million households watched President Trump’s speech Tuesday night. (No, Mr. President, that was NOT the largest audience in history.)
While the TV ratings, the pomp and the drama might be interesting to pundits and the media, a lot of us were actually interested in the “state of the union” and the “such measures as he shall judge necessary” parts.
After all, if you are trying to make a living, raise a family or finally know if you are in danger of being deported because your parents brought you here without legal status when you were a child, what the President has to say might be important.
If that’s why you cared about the State of the Union speech, you may have been pretty disappointed.
The State of the Union address almost never addresses the real state of the Union
Like any good politician, the President took credit for the good news — and there is some good news. While certainly not perfect, the tax bill he signed into law does some good things, including a long overdue cut in business taxes. While crony capitalism is alive and well in that tax bill, in net, less money going to the government is good.
The same can be said for regulations. Largely lost in the drama and the President’s daily Twitter distractions has been a credible effort to lessen the burden of unnecessary rules and restrictions imposed on us by the federal government.
Those are things we small government advocates can appreciate — and should.
If he had stopped there…
But he didn’t. The small government idea was tossed aside rather quickly, and President Trump reverted to the natural instincts of politicians who see the force of government as key to all good things. And he didn’t even “recommend” anything new.
He repeated his insistence that a common sense, humane and “American” solution to the dilemma of Dreamers — young immigrants brought or sent here as children and who lack legal status — should be held hostage to something he can call a Great Wall and to dramatically restricting legal immigration. So far, that “deal” has gotten us nowhere, and we are now only a month away from the President’s deadline for finding a DACA solution.
The President DID change one of his favorite initiatives. His $1 trillion infrastructure plan is now a $1.5 trillion plan. Of course, in the fine print, we find that the $1.5 trillion only includes $200 billion in federal funds. The other $1.3 trillion will come from state and local sources that will somehow be magically “leveraged” by that $200 billion from the feds.
While the Constitution rather clearly requires the President to deliver some sort of report to Congress, such as the State of the Union, it bears noting that it says nothing about the federal government “leveraging” states and localities into building roads, bridges, high-speed Internet or anything else. All indications are that the Founders were operating on an assumption of a limited national government that would leave such things to the states in the first place. The idea that we would send our tax dollars to Washington, DC, let the feds take a cut, and then send some of those dollars back for “infrastructure”, would likely have been laughed out of Philadelphia.
Republicans call it “building infrastructure”. President Obama called it “stimulus”. (That worked out really well.) And politicians of both parties love to invoke the term “investment”.
Spending is spending, borrowing is borrowing, and we can’t afford it
Doesn’t matter what you call it, but as a former Governor, I would suggest that, if state and local governments had $1.3 trillion to spend on roads and bridges, they would be doing so — and probably doing it better and more efficiently without being leveraged by bureaucrats in D.C.
Albeit almost as an afterthought, the President did follow tradition with the 16th annual reference to the War in Afghanistan that is still costing the precious lives of our military members, as well as the unintended consequence of putting many, many innocent people in harm’s way. What does it say about our state of affairs when a President devotes a major portion of his report to Congress to an insistence that immigration is some kind of existential threat, while saying virtually nothing significant about what is now the longest war in our history?
This from a President who, at one now-forgotten time, said we should get out of that war.
President Trump touched a number of other topics. You can do that when you talk for an hour and a half. But like too many Presidents before him, he managed to avoid what many believe to be a REAL existential threat: The fact that our government continues to spend hundreds of billions of dollars each year that we don’t have.
It didn’t take long for even this “outsider” President to fall into the business-as-usual denial of the small matter of a $20 trillion and growing national debt. The “state of the union” is that we are broke.
That’s probably worth mentioning. Maybe he’ll get around to it next year.