At times during the State of the Union speech, Donald Trump sounded like he wanted everyone to love each other. If you just caught selected snippets, you might have believed that he had turned a new leaf, pushed the restart button and resolved to let bygones be bygones.
“We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution,” Trump said early in the speech. But earlier in the day, he bashed his political opponents, proving that fear and revenge are still the meat and potatoes of his life.
As he was speaking in the House chamber, you could see the two little figures dancing on his shoulders. The angel kept urging him to talk nice, but the devil assured him that the same old Trump was fine. Since old habits die hard, the devil won.
When Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, Trump’s threats meant something. But he no longer has the run of the place, with Democrats controlling the House, and he should have listened to the angel.
Lyndon Johnson, majority leader of the Senate and president of the United States, recognized the nature of political power, and he had an earthy way to describe it. Essentially, Johnson said that if you grabbed hold of politicians hard and did not let go, “Their hearts and minds will follow.”
And, since Democrats now have a solid grip on Trump, he needs a reality check. Compromise and conciliation are called for, and even though no one gets all he wants, everyone gets something. This is the art of politics.
As for Trump’s tough-guy image, there has never been a tougher man in the White House than Johnson, and even he was not all bully. Johnson convinced and cajoled and charmed liberals and conservatives alike, even aligning himself with Republican President Eisenhower to build the interstate highway system.
As political journalists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak described Johnson’s approach, “Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions.”
Earlier in the week, New York Times writers Michael Tackett and Maggie Haberman described Trump as a president who has only one tactic — fear — and it is wearing thin.
“Other presidents have held out the fear of recrimination from the Oval Office to get their way, but they did not use Mr. Trump’s blunt instruments alone,” they said.
And, as David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama said, “Every foreign leader and every practicing politician has taken a measure of him and understands the basics, that he responds to strength and there’s not a lot behind the facade.”
But there he was Tuesday night, ignoring reality and the shift in political power in the co-equal branch of American government. It was his chance to change his approach and start to govern. Instead, fearful of ongoing investigations, he bashed and threatened the Democrats.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he warned. It was a foolish play from a guy who no longer holds all the cards.