On Tuesday, at President Trump’s State the Union (SOTU) before members of the U.S. House and Senate, a speech televised across the nation and in many parts of the world, which Donald Trump will, or should, show up? For the good the country, let’s hope it is Davos Trump (from Friday).
Here’s why: Going into last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, there were Trump opposition protests, primarily in Zurich, where Air Force One landed, and a small group in Davos, itself. While a few WEF attendees walked out of the President’s speech (one I witnessed with a tee shirt proclaiming, “I stand with Haiti”), his remarks remained uninterrupted. The President was scripted and stayed glued to the words that appeared in the teleprompter. It worked!
The result? He spoke about his America First agenda not meaning America alone. He was warmly received and avoided upsetting global political leaders (as he did on some of his first foreign forays last year) or the economic leaders who were in an attendance at WEF, which was about building consensus in a fragmented world. Many attendees I spoke with at Davos consider President Trump as the First Fragmentor. His speech, however, calmed many and was a success by most measures.
That’s the fellow who should show up for the State of the Union: Davos/Teleprompter Trump. Doing so is particularly important given the heightened and angry antagonism of many Democrats. The President shouldn’t enflame already smoking embers. Many recall Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting out “You lie” during one of President Obama’s SOTU addresses. It was, by any reasonable standard, bad form. The U.S. House of Representatives, where the speech is delivered, is not the UK’s House of Commons where booing, hissing, cat calls and shout out are a regular regimen. The SOTU should be a place for inside voices and making progress for our nation.
But this isn’t just about being respectful of the speech venue or those in the room, it’s most importantly about doing the right thing for the nation. The only true way to make long-term positive progress is to work with members of both parties. That’s particularly important on an issue that Mr. Trump touted during the 2016 campaign: infrastructure reform.
To date, the Trump Administration has only provided a scant six pages of bullet points on his infrastructure plan. That needs to be fleshed out with more detail and the SOTU is an obvious opportunity to do so.
Furthermore, infrastructure is not a very partisan issue. I know this from experience in working to craft such legislation in the Senate. The policy debates around infrastructure usually center more around urban versus rural, transit versus roads debates than partisan politics.
A Davos/Teleprompter Trump could make a heckuva lot of progress if he spoke about the need for infrastructure reform, the efficiencies that would be created, not to mention the jobs and boom to businesses and the overall economy. This topic and how to speak about it should be a no-brainer for the President.
For the Democrats, they should really refrain from any bad behavior. That will be decidedly difficult for some of them who believe the President has thwarted opportunities to work together, has put in place a tax reform plan that will only exacerbate the current wealth gap, and has demeaned the office of the presidency. Nevertheless, Democrats should be respectful and civil.
Some say politics shouldn’t be personal, and that’s true to an extent. At the same time, we want people in public office who believe passionately in causes. That’s what our democracy is based upon. The SOTU, however, isn’t the place to deride or demean the President nor for the President to be particularly partisan. We can all do better and let’s hope we see it Tuesday night.