I wish I could say I was utterly absorbed by President Trump's brief address to the American people on Tuesday night. Actually what happened is that my two-year-old woke up just before he appeared and asked for some water and another story. Curious George and the Dump Truck is, by toddler standards, kind of a long book. By the time I was back in my office I only heard the last four or so minutes. Nothing about those four minutes was memorable.
That said, four minutes of Trump is still more interesting than 30 seconds of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. If the speaker of the House and the Senate minority leader reminded us of anything with their graciously short rejoinder it is that there are good reasons the star of Celebrity Apprentice, which also ran in the 9:00 p.m. time-slot, is in the White House today while an anodyne centrist Democrat is not.
No doubt there was a segment of Trump's base that expected him to announce that he had apprehended the body of George Soros and declared martial law over San Francisco. Even I thought there was at least a sporting chance he might come out to say that he had appropriated funding for the wall unilaterally and that construction would begin tomorrow on the Trump Luxury Resort and Wall San Antonio.
This did not happen. Instead, he repeated mantras that will be familiar to anyone who has ever heard the man speak — that he was given a mandate by the American people to build the wall and that Congress was thus obligated to fund the program. He made essentially the same demands that he has been making since before Christmas. Pelosi and Schumer likewise repeated that they did not care about the president's supposed mandate or his feelings about what he is entitled to receive from them. In exchange for nothing, they asked him to end the second longest government shutdown in our history. I don't see this happening any time soon.
Is it possible that, on balance, the speech was a good thing for Trump's cause? To the casual viewer it is hard not to think that he was, if nothing else, about 100 times more compelling than the two Democratic leaders. But that's not saying much. The furious rhetoric that made his "American carnage" inaugural speech a dubious sort of classic was entirely absent. Instead he spoke in the most restrained and sober manner possible about an issue he has discussed many times before. It was certainly no "Rivers of Blood."
It is worth adding that the media got everything it wanted from this non-event. After Trump finished speaking, I listened to about 45 minutes of "fact checking" on cable before groaning. Did you know, my good sir, that Mexico is not actually going to pay for the wall, either in cash or indirectly via the revived NAFTA deal? Are you in fact aware that the number of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes such as rape and murder is very small in proportion to both their overall numbers and the population at large? In case you haven't heard, corporations hire immigrants because Americans are not clamoring at the door to perform back-breaking labor in exchange for low wages — and the only way to solve this is to allow an unlimited number of immigrants to do their bidding.
Would it be absurd to suggest that both the president and the press corps might enjoy making this a regular Tuesday night thing? Like with any popular drama, it would give rise to a cottage industry of recaps (complete with two competing versions, for those who have and have not read the source material, i.e., Bob Woodward's new book), elaborate competing fan theories on YouTube, watch parties, a dedicated sub-Reddit. The total transformation of our political life into lowbrow entertainment is so nearly complete anyway. Why not give the people what they want? It would be the only bipartisan victory of the year.