Do Away with the SOTU or Do It Right

Do Away with the SOTU
or Do It Right

© David Burton 2020


     On Tuesday evening, 4 February 2020, I watched President Donald Trump deliver the annual State Of The Union (SOTU) message to a joint session of Congress. I was ashamed, embarrassed and totally disgusted with what I saw and heard. What was delivered was not a State Of The Union message. It was an egotistical presentation of the imagined triumphs of the narcissistic president and a blatant political speech in anticipation of the upcoming 2020 elections in November. Not only was I chagrined at the barefaced boasting by President Trump, but I was mortified by the puppet-like behavior of the Republican senators and representatives who jumped to their feet, applauding at every self-serving claim of achievement by their Republican Party leader. These are supposed to be elected officials who represent the interests of their constituents and the nation. They are not supposed to be pawns of some would-be American despot! Their behavior was all-too reminiscent of the orchestrated behavior of Communist Politburo members under the totalitarian leaderships of Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Jong Il, and the other Communist dictators. God help the Politburo members who didn’t follow the Communist party script. Now it’s God help the Republicans who don’t follow the Donald Trump script and who don’t bow down and lick the boots of their party leader.

     “The State of the Union Address (sometimes abbreviated to SOTU) is an annual message delivered by the President of the United States to a joint session of the United States Congress at the beginning of each calendar year in office. The message typically includes a budget message and an economic report of the nation, and also allows the President to propose a legislative agenda and national priorities.
     “The address fulfills the requirement in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution for the President to 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.’ The date of the event may be rescheduled. During most of the country's first century, the President primarily only submitted a written report to Congress. After 1913, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. President, began the regular practice of delivering the address to Congress in person . . . “ (Ref. 1)


     “The State of the Union address derives from Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution, which says presidents ‘shall from time to time 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.’ This has been interpreted differently by various presidents, given how vaguely worded it is.
     “It's not required that presidents deliver ‘information of the state of the union’ in a speech, but that's how it was initially done. In the US's first 12 years, George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union addresses before Congress.
     “The constitutionally mandated presidential message was formally known as the ‘Annual Message’ from 1790 to 1946.
     “On January 8, 1790, Washington delivered the first State of the Union address before Congress in New York City, the US capital at the time.
     “President Thomas Jefferson ended the tradition of delivering a speech before Congress, opting instead to send a written message to lawmakers. Jefferson felt that delivering an address before Congress was too aristocratic and similar to practices in monarchies. [Emphasis mine]
     “Presidents followed Jefferson's example for over a century. But the precedent the third president established was broken by Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
     “Wilson was the first president to deliver the executive's message in a speech before Congress since 1801. At the time, The Washington Post reported that lawmakers were ‘agape’ at Wilson's break from tradition. ‘Washington is amazed,’ the newspaper said.
     “Since Wilson, most presidents have delivered their message to Congress in person, with a few exceptions — for example, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Jimmy Carter sent their final messages in print. President Richard Nixon also sent a written message in 1973 because his staff felt that delivering one in person would have come too soon after his inaugural address.
     “In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge became the first commander-in-chief to deliver the speech via radio.
     “The phrase ‘state of the union’ was popularized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose speech was informally referred to as the state of the union ‘address’ or ‘message.’
     “Truman officially named the speech the ‘State of the Union address,’ and the rest is history.
     “Truman was also the first president to broadcast his address on TV.
     “President Lyndon B. Johnson shrewdly moved the speech from midafternoon to 9 p.m. to attract a larger TV audience across the nation.
     “President Ronald Reagan started the practice of inviting special guests, often ordinary Americans who've performed an act of heroism or people who help the president make specific policy points.
     “Nixon holds the record for the shortest State of the Union address, delivering his 1972 speech in about 28 minutes.
     “The longest State of the Union was delivered by President Bill Clinton in 2000, clocking in at about 89 minutes.
     “President Jimmy Carter holds the record for the longest address in terms of total written words: 33,667 words in 1981. Meanwhile, Washington holds the record for the shortest address in terms of written words: 1,089 words in 1790.
     “Only two presidents have not delivered a State of the Union address in any form: William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia 32 days after his inauguration, and James A. Garfield, who was assassinated in 1881 after 199 days in office.
     “The speech has been postponed at least once. Reagan's 1986 address was pushed back after the Challenger space shuttle exploded on January 28.
     “In 2002, President George W. Bush brought the speech into the internet era, becoming the first president to make the address available via webcast and the first to post it on the White House's website.
     “There has not been a State of the Union address every year. Several presidents did not give official speeches in this capacity in their first year: Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1989, Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush in 2001, Barack Obama in 2009, and Donald Trump in 2017. . .
     “In 2019, Trump became the first president in history to be disinvited from delivering the State of the Union address. But his address was eventually rescheduled.
     “Some State of the Union addresses have been more memorable than others, and the influence of the speech has perhaps been exaggerated at times. But it is a vital opportunity for the president to grab the attention of Congress and the US public, and, in many ways, to address whatever feels most important in the world in that moment.
     “Trump is the second president in US history to deliver a State of the Union address after being impeached. In Clinton's 1999 address, which came after he was impeached in December 1998, he did not mention impeachment. Clinton's Senate impeachment trial was ongoing at the time, and it ended in February with his acquittal.” (Ref. 2)

     “An emboldened Donald Trump bragged about the ‘great American comeback’ in his State of the Union address . . . in a speech resembling a prolonged televised election advert{isement} that skirted around the inconvenient truth that he remained in the final throes of his impeachment trial.
      - - -      “. . . {It} was historically unique in that an impeached president, still locked in a trial, also faces a bid for re-election now only nine months away. As such it was no surprise that the theme of the speech – the ‘great American comeback’ – bore all the qualities of an election jingle.” (Ref. 3)

     One writer’s response to the Donald Trump reality show puts the spotlight on what the State of the Union has become. “That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dramatically tore up the president’s speech (or script as some have called it) may have seemed crass to some but I applauded her. Not just for the symbolism of the gesture, but for the president’s unmitigated gall in using black people as props in his outrageous and demeaning theater of the absurd.
     “Was it some perverse joke that Rush Limbaugh, a fellow Barack Obama ‘birther’ conspiracist who shamelessly gave greater audience to Trump’s foul tactic of questioning whether our first black president was born here, was given the Medal of Freedom?! It is hard for many in the black community to forget his outrageous ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ shtick and other over-the-top, racist, hate-fueled disgraceful invective that he spread on air.
     “So, how does Limbaugh rate the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and not Charles McGhee, the 100-year-old last surviving member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen? Trump officially promoted McGhee to brigadier general Tuesday, but if there’s anyone who should have gotten the Medal of Freedom that night, it’s McGhee, who with his fellow airmen overcame racial indignities and served his country in exemplary fashion. Heroes are the ones who deserve medals. I don’t see Limbaugh as one.
      - - -
     “Special thanks to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose 10-minute rebuttal had more substance than Trump’s ‘me-me-my-I,I,I’ two-hour speech laced with feel-good theatrics.” (Ref. 4)

     “Donald Trump is a lot of things: a con man, a carnival barker, a criminal who escapes justice. But we can never forget his one true calling: Trump is a reality-television game show host. It’s the only thing he’s ever actually been good at.
     “For Trump, convincing aggrieved Americans to reelect him is the game. Actually, running the country is the show. Since he can’t distinguish between running the country and running for reelection, the result is a kind of a bizarre and terrifying game show in which we’re all trapped. Some days we’re playing Let’s Make a Deal and have to decide which Pandora’s box of crime and lawlessness is worth opening and trying to prosecute. Other days, we’re playing Saw as Trump asks us which child or vulnerable community we’re willing to cut off in hopes that others may be saved. Of course, there’s never a right answer to any of the choices: The only rule of Trump’s game show is that we’re never allowed to escape.
     “Last night {Tuesday, 4 February 2020} was the third installment of State of the Union. Most of the tricks and tropes were familiar if you survived the first two episodes. Trump started off with a recitation of economic success he inherited from President Barack Obama, took credit for all of it, and somehow blamed Obama for not accomplishing anything. Then he repeatedly lied about what he is doing to protect health care. Then he repeatedly lied about the Democratic plans for health care. He used the word ‘socialism’ several times, both incorrectly and threateningly.
     “He next moved on to shout-outs to various desperate Americans he claimed as beneficiaries of his enlightened rule. Those Americans dutifully stood and smiled and waved when called upon, likely knowing that their transactional host could rescind whatever benevolence he bestowed upon them at his whim.
     “Trump flourished, as always, the horrific recitation of some brutal crime committed by a nameless, faceless, yet certainly brown and menacing immigrant. The salacious fearmongering was then quickly used to justify the fresh hell he would visit upon all immigrants, and by extension all people who look like they might be immigrants, in the name of the highlighted victim. This time, it was some cockamamie plan to allow victims to sue sanctuary cities should they ever be attacked by immigrants. Because, I guess, guns don’t kill people, but cities do?
     “Still, this being his third State of the Union, Trump decided to add some new content, lest people feel they were stuck in a rerun of a prior show. Like the Wizard of Oz trying to talk his way out of being anything more than a snake oil salesman, Trump decided to hand out honors. He dredged up a Tuskegee airman, who was literally 100 years old, and ‘promoted’ him to brigadier general. I’m sure that played well with Trump’s white audience: What better way to pretend that you’re totally not racist than by having some black people on your show? . . .
     “I don’t think most people of color were fooled, because the highest honor of the evening went to one of the most dogged and unapologetic bigots in American public life: Rush Limbaugh. The longtime radio huckster recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Limbaugh was invited to the State of the Union and seated by the first lady. During the speech, Trump thanked Limbaugh for his ‘decades of tireless devotion to our country.’ Then he awarded Limbaugh the presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor we have) and asked the first lady to hang it on him on the spot.
     “Rush tried to act surprised.
     “While all the people in my house were still reeling, trading stories about the most racist thing they remember Limbaugh saying (for me it was when he called Barack Obama a ‘halfrican American’), Trump was on to his final trick: a soldier reveal. Most people have seen this on YouTube. A military family, usually a wife and a child, are called to some event while their spouse is deployed. The veteran surprises them with his safe return. Cheers and tears follow.
     “That Trump set one up at the State of the Union is unorthodox, yet totally in keeping with his method of command. He likes soldiers who don’t get captured, remember.
     “We’re so inured to the absurdist game show brought to us from the inchoate mind of President Trump that it would be easy to overlook what was not in the speech. Last night, the president stood before the nation, impeached forever, but he {was} acquitted by the United States Senate {the next day}. In the State of the Union after Bill Clinton was acquitted of impeachment charges, he stood up and apologized for his actions that thrust the country into such turmoil. But Trump never apologizes and wasn’t about to start last night. Nor could he risk saying anything that would change the mind of his complicit Republican jurors in the audience. So he didn’t mention it. The emperor stood naked while Republicans applauded his new clothes. [Emphasis mine]
     “The Republicans, as usual, had a unified plan. The Democrats, in contrast, were kind of all over the map. Trump started the evening by refusing to shake Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand, even though she politely extended it. Speaker Pelosi ended the evening by ripping up her copy of Trump’s speech the moment he finished delivering it, while he was still on the dais and she was clearly still on camera. All of the House women wore white in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment (not surprisingly, Trump did not find a 100-year-old woman to honor), but the Senate women did not. Some Democrats boycotted the speech altogether. Others walked out during it. Still others stayed for the whole thing and clapped or stood when Trump started handing out titles (or hailing Venezuela’s self-declared president Juan Guaido).
     “At least Pelosi’s response was performative. The official Democratic response was given by the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, and lacked anything that could be described as passion. It wasn’t a red-meat speech meant to rile up the base, or a thorough takedown of the many lies and untruths Trump offered in his speech, or even a reminder about why this dangerous, lawless president should be removed from office. Instead, it was mainly about bridges and potholes and all the good-government things Democratic governors are doing. I’m sure somebody thought the speech would appeal to ‘independent’ voters, and I’m sure there are still people who think we’re going to defeat this malicious circus clown by reigniting America’s nascent desire for good rivet work.
     “But: Trump promised a space force, a Mars mission, and a cure for AIDS. People like big promises. Nobody shows up to a game show for the opportunity to win a shovel.
    - - -
     “The State of the Union was the premiere of the reelection season of the Trump show. Of course, it was bad—every single episode of this show has been either bad or terrifying. . .” (Ref. 5)

     “State of the Union addresses are supposed to be boring speeches.
     “Actually, they are not required to be speeches at all. The U.S. Constitution requires only that the president ‘from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.’
      - - -
     “But most of these speeches {have been} boring, mostly lists signaling policy priorities, often organized by what the president had done the previous year, still wanted to do, and would need from Congress in the coming year.
     “What President Trump did in his State of the Union address was not boring or staid. He departed from some rhetorical traditions of the presidency, as audiences have come to expect from him.
      - - -
     “President Trump turned up the volume of his own rhetoric and audience engagement so much so that . . . he symbolically stepped out from behind the podium and became part of the cheering section. He did this in two main ways.
     “First, he used his characteristic combination of self-references and superlatives, patterns mastered on the campaign trail. . .
     “Dropping in short sentences about what you have accomplished as points for partisan applause is expected. Making these claims drip so heavily with adverbs and adjectives and action verbs is not.
     ‘“From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy — slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements,’ he said shortly after the speech began.
     “A few minutes later, when discussing his administration’s impact on the economy, he added, ‘(and) very incredibly, the average unemployment rate under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country.’
     “Note that nothing here is merely an accomplishment or point of pride for Republicans to share. The tone instead is closer to an action movie, with a hero who ‘slashes’ and ‘very incredibly’ performs feats never before seen in the ‘history of our country.’
     “This language is characteristic of Trump’s campaign rallies but not State of the Union addresses.
     “The second choice he made on Tuesday made clear he wanted to be in and with the crowd and its frenzy rather than behind a podium.
     “From a symbolic standpoint, he actually went into the crowd to give out amazing, unexpected, and big prizes: an ‘opportunity scholarship’ for Philadelphia fourth-grader Janiyah Davis; the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh; and an Army sergeant’s emotional homecoming to his young family, the Williamses of North Carolina.
     “While Ronald Reagan started the tradition of telling the stories of invited guests in the gallery, Trump went further, reaching up into the gallery visually with the presentation of these surprises to make his presence – and his impact – known.” (Ref. 6)

     Trump’s 2020 State of the Union show gushed with a plethora of narcissistic words and phrase - whether implied or explicit - like: I, me , the greatest, never before, unimaginable, fantastic, outstanding, etc. It was not a factual message to Congress. It was a typical Donald Trump self-aggrandizing screed.
     The framers of the Constitution intended that the State of the Union message would annually inform Congress and the nation about the condition of the nation and recommend to Congress what future actions the President was suggesting that they consider. It was not supposed to be a time for chest thumping by the president. It was never supposed to be an opportunity for the president to campaign for another term in office. It was not supposed to be a time for the president to pander to the electorate by passing out medals to individuals who were his favorites or who could be seen as showing the president’s favor toward the voting group that the individual represented. It was not supposed to be a game show hosted by the president.

     What America doesn't need are "Republicans at the State of the Union acting like frat boys, chanting 'Four more years!' to convey their enthusiasm for a president not merely clinically megalomaniacal but conclusively demonstrated to be epically corrupt." (Ref. 7)

     If the annual State of the Union presentations to Congress cannot return to what they were intended to be - an opportunity to 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’- then the State of the Union presentation to Congress should either be done away with or should return to written messages to Congress that was once the norm. America does not need to put up with a political television game show hosted by an egotistical master of ceremonies.


  1. State of the Union, Wikipedia, Accessed 7 February 2020.
  2. The complete history of the US State of the Union address, John Haltiwanger, Business Insider,
    4 February 2020.
  3. State of the Union: Trump asks nation for second term amid impeachment trial, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian,
    4 February 2020.
  4. Trump shreds opportunities for change in State of the Union, Joyce Ferriabough Bolling, World Israel News, Page 15, 7 February 2020.
  5. Trump’s State of the Union Was a Terrifying Game Show Stunt, Elie Mystal, The Nation, 5 February 2020.
  6. Trump's excess and extravagance turned the State of the Union into an action movie, Vanessa B. Beasley,, 5 February 2020.
  7. Romney, Vindman among the best America can be, Jeff Robbins, Boston Herald, Page 25, 11 February 2020.

  3 March 2020 {Article 402; Politics_59}    
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