The State of the Union, Such As It Is

President Donald Trump has had a good week so far. On Monday the Democratic party thoroughly botched the opening contest in its presidential nomination process, on Tuesday he got to brag on prime time television for an hour and half about his achievements with all the pomp and circumstance of a State of the Union address, and today he’s almost certain to be acquitted of the impeachment charges brought against him by the House of Representatives. He should enjoy it while it lasts.
That botched Iowa caucuses will be long forgotten by Election Day, and the damage to the Democratic party could have been worse. The embarrassingly long delay in releasing the results was prompted by concerns from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a failure to address them would have further convinced his supporters that the Democratic National Party is rigging the game against him in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. Sanders wound up in a tight race against South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg as the last votes were being counted, Biden was far behind in fourth place, and as incompetent as it clearly was the process didn’t seem corrupt.
Trump stuck to the script on the teleprompter, which was better written than his usual fare, and except for those audible sniffles that preceded every sentence the delivery wasn’t bad. He also had plausible reasons for bragging, as the unemployment rate is low and the stock markets are up, but Trump characteristically overstated how good things are now and how bad things were when he took office.
The gross domestic product grew at a perfectly respectable 2.3 percent rate last year, but that was down from the year before, and well below the 3 or 4 percent growth that Trump had promised, and worse than in the last years of the President Barack Obama’s administration. He only slighted overstated the job creation that occurred during the first three years of his administration, which is a bit below the number created during the last years of President Barack Obama’s administration. He claimed credit for America becoming the world’s leader in oil and gas production, but the country’s held that title since 2013. We don’t give Obama much credit for the upward trajectory of the American economy that Trump inherited and has more or less maintained, which mainly goes to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people and their still mostly free economy, but as Obama did Trump is claiming credit where credit is not due.
Trump also claimed credit for 12,000 new “factories” built during his administration, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 80 percent of them are “manufacturing establishments” with five or fewer employees, and overall the manufacturing sector of the economy is in a technical recession, with other “blue collar” sectors such as construction and mining seeing slower growth and farm bankruptcies rising, and most analysts blame that on Trump’s trade wars. The president boasted that the trade wars have yielded great deals, but the re-branded United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is little more than the usual biannual tweaking of the old North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump falsely claimed had destroyed a fourth of America’s manufacturing jobs, and the deals he’s still seeking with China and the rest of the world don’t look much more promising.
He also bragged that “All those millions of people with 401(K)s and pensions are doing far than have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and even 100 percent,” but that’s obviously crazy talk. According to Census Bureau only 32 percent of Americans are invested in 401(K)s and pension plans, and according an analysis by Fidelity Investments the increase in their accounts has been more like 1 percent. There was a pledge to always force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, even though the Trump administration continues to press a lawsuit that would completely undo Obamacare and it’s protections for preexisting condition and has offered no replacement plan. We also noticed Trump promised to get tough on all the big pharmaceutical companies while bragging how he’s streamlined the Food and Drug Administrations safety reviews, which Big Pharma probably won’t mind. He further bragged about criminal justice reform to release prisoners and paid maternity leave and planting new trees, which isn’t likely to endear to either or his admirers or his critics.
Unmentioned was the fact despite that the Greatest Economy Ever Trump is presiding over deficit spending even bigger than Obama saw when he had a Democratic Congress and severe recession to deal with, and that Trump had two years of a Republican Congress to strike the infrastructure deal Trump is still proposing and that’s less likely to win the support of all the Democrats Trump routinely mocks and taunts.
Trump’s impeachment trial wisely went unmentioned, too, even if the entirety of the speech was infused with an unmistakeable triumphalism about his inevitable acquittal today. Acquittal does not always equal exoneration in the court of public opinion, though, and Trump’s former friend O.J. Simpson might warn not to get too cocky about it. A few Republican Senators have been frank enough to say they’ll vote for acquittal even though they concede that Trump did do what’s charged with, and that it was something very bad which he ought not to have done, and a big chunk of the country will still feel outraged by the clearly rigged and evidence-free verdict even after the long slog toward Election Day.
On the other hand, Trump is such an eerily lucky fellow we sometimes suspect the famous deal-maker made a Faustian bargain, and he’ll have the good fortune to run against a Democrat. So far as anyone can tell the big winners in Iowa were the self-described socialist Sanders and the openly homosexual Buttigieg, which might be a step too far even in this age of taboo-breaking in both parties. Biden might make a more respectable showing in New Hampshire and regain his front-runner status in South Carolina and on Super Tuesday, but he’s not a very formidable campaigner. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did well in Iowa to remain in the race, and she’s a relatively sane centrist who has a long record of winning Republican votes and strikes us at the Democrats’ best bet, but this year that probably dooms her chances.
From our perspective here in the middle of the country and on the political sidelines, the state of the union is somewhat worrisome.

— Bud Norman