The Real State of the Union Is Awfully Precarious

On the very week President Trump is set to give this speech, he and his party have taken grave steps that put the republic at risk.


Jim Lo Scalzo/Getty

Donald Trump will boast Tuesday night about the economy, and he will have every right to.

Not that it’s his doing, but this is politics. We have a good economy right now. Any president giving a State of the Union speech would do the same.

Of course, Trump will then go on to do what any president sitting on a healthy economy would not necessarily do; he’ll lie. He’ll gild the lily until it sinks into the pond. He’ll brag about the stock market. Biggest ever. In fact, as he surely won’t note, the DJIA grew at a faster rate during Barack Obama’s first year in office than Trump’s. He’ll mention that Carrier plant in Indiana, but he’ll bypass the 550 layoffs there in the last few months. He’ll expect, and receive, the fulsome applause of congressional Republicans when he raises that solar panel tariff, skipping over the fact that the experts say it will cost jobs, and that one solar panel manufacturer has already stopped work on a $20 million factory expansion, reports Reuters, “until and unless its solar panels receive an exclusion from federal tariffs the Trump administration imposed this week.”

But those are just the pedestrian lies. The cancerous lie at the heart of this presidency, which his speech will ignore or elide, is that the state of our union is not strong at all.

In fact, it is dying. Not in some abstract sense. I mean we are in imminent—imminent—danger of losing the right to call ourselves a republic, a nation of laws.

How does a “union,” of the sort the president will boast about tonight, go from being a nation of laws to a fiefdom of a dear leader’s whim? Through a hundred small steps from Jan. 20, 2017, to now. But for present purposes, let’s focus on three. And interestingly—and note this well—they’re not mostly Donald Trump’s fault. They’re mostly the fault of his Republican enablers.

First, let’s start with the “resignation” of Andrew McCabe from the FBI.

McCabe announced suddenly on Monday that he was leaving the bureau effective immediately after months of harassment and taunting from the president of the United States. We don’t know for sure that that’s why McCabe left. There is apparently a Justice Department inspector general’s report examining the actions of McCabe and others in the bureau during the 2016 campaign. So maybe the contents of that report provide the reason.

But bear in mind: McCabe was involved in investigating the president, and the president was heaping verbal abuse on him. Also, McCabe, who was in regular contact with former Director James Comey a year ago while Trump was urging Comey to drop the Russia probe, is potentially a witness against the president.

A week ago, it was reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire McCabe, but at the time, reportedly, Wray refused. Even said he’d resign if McCabe was fired. So McCabe wasn’t fired. Conveniently, he resigned. So that’s number one: A law-enforcement official who was in the way is suddenly pushed out of the way.

Second, also Monday, the House intelligence committee took three fateful votes. First, it voted to release the memo written by GOP Chairman Devin Nunes. You know about this memo, with its facts cherry-picked from intel sources. The memo includes, it’s been reported, sensitive government secrets, but the committee voted on straight party lines (Republicans in favor) that revealing these secrets was fine.

At the same time, according to ranking Democrat Adam Schiff, who spoke to Capitol Hill reporters shortly after 6 p.m. Monday in a news conference with no parallel I can recall in recent American history, the committee voted not to release a Democratic counterreport. No pretense of balance. And finally, Schiff said, the committee voted to open a formal investigation into the FBI and the Justice Department.

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Think about that. Congress investigating the investigators. Has it happened before? Yes, it has. But here’s the crucial difference. When Congress investigated the FBI (and the CIA) in the 1970s, it was based on very credible allegations that both agencies were conducting covert and at times illegal investigations of American citizens. Thousands of citizens.

Now, the Congress is launching a probe into the FBI and Justice Department because of their investigation into one citizen. He happens to be the leader of their political party.

Investigating whether the rights of thousands of citizens have been violated is defending the republic—defending the laws. Investigating whether a probe into their president is legitimate, for the obvious purpose of discrediting it, is desecrating the republic.

Third and last, of the course the memo will be released, likely by the end of the week. It is a propaganda document parading as an official government document. Its only purpose is to discredit the investigation.

And more than that: It is a document that proves that the Republicans will stop at nothing to exonerate Trump. They don’t care what the facts are. They will do anything they can, within the broad confines of “the law,” to get Trump off the hook.

Actual small-r republicans don’t do anything they can to pervert and subvert the law. They don’t press every possible advantage they can. They know, at a certain point, that they have to stop. Republicans knew with Nixon, they had to stop. We have no sign that these Republicans know they have to stop.

That is the state of our union—on the very week Trump is to give this speech, he and his party have taken grave steps that put the union at risk. I know these words can sound melodramatic, because on the surface of life, nothing changes. There are no shock troops in the streets, columnists aren’t being silenced or arrested, books aren’t being burned, Trump hasn’t arrogated to himself emergency powers.

But if you know some history, and if you’re paying attention—you’re worried. You know we have never been here before. Not even with Nixon. This is the true state of our union, and everyone would do well to remember that it will not change if Trump manages to read words from a teleprompter in a soothing fashion for 45 minutes tonight.