Ahead of this year’s State of the Union address, the White House set the stage for a more benevolent Donald Trump. Indeed, surrogates like Kellyanne Conway said the president would make a call for bipartisan unity.
“This president is going to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution and call for more comity,” she told the Washington Post.
Trump echoed that talking point Tuesday night, declaring, “… we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.”
But, it’s a song we’ve heard before.
At last year’s State of the Union, Trump made a similar plea, stating, “Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.”
Unfortunately, in the year hence, the president has done little to seek common ground or summon unity. Instead, he has further stoked divisions by relentlessly insulting his critics and spouting incendiary rhetoric, including spreading racist, fear-mongering lies about immigrants and leveling dangerous attacks on the press.
Tuesday afternoon, just hours before his speech, Trump had yet to change his tone.
In a private meeting with journalists, he disparaged his political opponents, calling former-vice president Joe Biden “dumb,” offensively referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” and calling Sen. Charles Schumer a “nasty son of a (expletive).” He even took a swipe at the late Sen. John McCain.
So, excuse us if we don’t take Mr. Trump at his word. As we see time and again, his word means very little. If he is sincere about bridging the political divide and healing these wounds, it’s on him to make the first move through actions, not words halfheartedly read off a teleprompter.
We won’t hold out breath. For more than two years, political observers have looked to occasions like the State of the Union hopeful that it might finally be the moment where he pivots, where he adopts a less combative tone and becomes more presidential. Those expecting such a pivot should stop holding their breath, too.
We are wise to these feints by now. It’s just more gaslighting — telling us one thing when we can plainly see the opposite to be true.
We have a president who exists in a perpetual present, who believes his past words and actions can be rewritten if they no longer fit his current narrative.
We should no longer delude ourselves into thinking Trump is interested in compromise or serving the common good.
It’s clear he’s not interested in serving anyone beyond his base. Since becoming president, he has done a poor job of concealing his disdain for those who don’t support him — from Republican politicians in Congress who criticize him to states that didn’t vote for him in 2016.
Indeed, Trump’s body language belied his words Tuesday night. For much of the speech, he addressed the Republican side of the House chamber while keeping his back to the Democratic half. How, then, are we supposed to believe he is willing to bridge the political divide when he can’t even physically face the party that represents a majority of the country?
At this point, thinking Donald Trump is going to change is laughable.
He is, to his core, a vengeful bully whose idea of unity is bending others to his will. Instead of comity, we continue to get comedy. And if we expect any different, the joke is on us.