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The Real State of the Union: America Has a Huge Political Vacuum

January 31, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Trump's debut SOTU speech and critics' responses highlight a growing void in the political landscape.

Has there ever been a more predictable and less meaningful State of the Union speech than President Trump’s debut performance on Tuesday night?

What will Trump say that Americans haven't already heard or already know, personally and politically? Next to nothing, I’d suggest.

Every adjective that can describe his manner, priorities, delivery, habits and abilities has been beaten to death in the past year. Every statement he’s likely to mouth has been vetted by speechwriters whose talents include turning meaningful words into mush.

And yet, almost everything that comes from critics, both on the political left and the right, seems only to fortify the convictions of the minority of Americans who voted for him. (The Electoral College math giving him the presidency is a topic for another time.)

Anything that feeds the media circus elevates Trump. This dynamic is not new. Luigi Zingales, a professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, said a similar turbulence marked Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as Italy’s prime minister.

“Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition,” he wrote in a New York Times commentary in mid-November 2016. “It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.”

One year into Trump’s presidency, Zingales’ words resonate. His suggestion for Democrats and other critics is to treat Trump like the bungling and vindictive politician that he has since proved to be—and not allow him to wiggle out by defending himself as a “political outsider” or blaming career politicians, even elected Republicans, from thwarting him.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Democrats, whether progressives or centrists, universally despise Trump and have seized every opportunity to say so. But …read more


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