State Of Union

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.  AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

My mama always told me (as most tell their own children) not to discuss money, religion, health or politics in polite company. I’ve further learned that it’s impolite to ask a farmer or plantation owner how large a tract he has and even worse to ask a cattle rancher how many head of cattle keep the grass trim.

That’s about all I know in the etiquette world, notwithstanding my agreement with most Americans that President Trump’s State of the Union Address last week was overall quite good. While people can always find the type of polling data that suits their biases, even CBS reported that an overwhelming number or Republicans approved of the speech as did over 40 percent of Democratic viewers.

Of course, everybody’s got an opinion about this sort of thing and it all gets so tiresome — particularly now the speech and all the postmortems are old news. Yet Trump, the self-described “stable genius,” has, without question, been a major contributing factor to the most contentious, divisive and toxic political climate of my lifetime, which I estimate spans some three generations.

As someone who might well have retired or considered scaling back at the age of 70, he elected to run for president and pulled off the impossible by actually winning, making full use of remarkable showmanship and unbelievable self-confidence. Along the way he has taken on the world and particularly the left with a sense of style, luxury and debauch that are devoid of charm (but not necessarily entertainment value), and where every utterance and Tweet can affect the fate of some quarter of the world.

Mr. Trump, who may have appeared a bit obtuse by waging all-out war against the left with no inclination for compromise and bipartisanship, has spent his first year in office basically in apprenticeship and on a steep learning curve, and now perhaps showing signs of learning to contend with an assortment of people and situations, to command and serve in such a manner where he’s not completely running roughshod over everything and everybody.

And yet it would seem fairly obvious to this point that part of the method to his madness included deliberately creating more than the usual partisan divisiveness and rancor so that his opponents would respond to anything Mr. Trump says or does with anger and disgust — and to their own detriment.

When the president touted that African-American unemployment is now at its lowest point in history, he got nothing (except Nancy Pelosi’s appearing to be sucking on a lemon), as was further the case when he reached across the aisle with a stunning $1.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, talk about pharmaceutical pricing regulations and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants (“Dreamers”) who were brought to the United States as children. All of these are very strong Democrat talking points.

Compared to Mr. Trump’s inaugural address — as dystopian, uninspiring and negative a presidential speech I ever recall hearing (and which former President George W. Bush described as “some weird (expletive)”) — this year’s State of the Union Address was relatively uplifting and at times very poignant. He further articulated with clarity what would normally be expected in a State of the Union Address: Goals, what has been accomplished so far, and what to expect.

Whereas it’s true that even though the market has dropped off hellishly — including a 666 point drop last Friday and twice that Monday — and there are new concerns about interest rates and inflation — The State of the Union speech appears to have given Trump a bump in his approval ratings. A recent CNN report cited a poll that put Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, noting that’s 10 points higher than in December. It also comes on the heels of the huge GOP tax cut victory.

Furthermore, according to the latest Gallop Mood of the Nation Poll, Americans are feeling pretty good right now. Most are pleased with the state of our military and our preparedness to deal with terrorism and consumer confidence is at a 17-year high. Meanwhile, according to the CNN story, Trump and the Republicans may be outmaneuvering the Democrats on the immigration front and also in the way conversation is being generated concerning release of the memo last Friday which spins a narrative of a “Deep State” and special investigator who attempted to throw the last presidential election in favor of Secretary Hillary Clinton.

In short, Trump is sitting somewhat pretty for the time being but, as is his nature, could implode and/or generate unnecessary crises at any moment, thus severely damaging Republican hopes during the midterms. And many expect that’s exactly what will happen.

The Democrats meanwhile can’t feasibly reject out of hand Trump proposals that are mutually suitable given the current framework of debate and would be extremely shortsighted to underestimate yet again what he is capable of doing.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@comcast.net.