Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 | 2 a.m.
One of the memorable characters from the old days of television was Eddie Haskell of “Leave it to Beaver.” President Donald Trump no doubt remembers him. Haskell was sycophantically respectful toward parents to their faces, but always plotted and schemed when their backs were turned. To a generation, Haskell symbolized hypocrisy of the most annoying kind.
Trump’s address Tuesday was the Eddie Haskell State of the Union — although Haskell’s performances were more artful because he only turned nasty when the elders weren’t looking. In Trump’s case, his two-faced politics were on display in the same oration.
At the outset, Trump tried his mightiest to be a bipartisan unifier in the manner of Dwight D. Eisenhower. “We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” Trump said in a line released in advance to showcase that he really, truly wanted to bring us together.
But the real meaning of Trumpian solidarity emerged as the address continued: Give in to me on everything, and there will be no conflict.
For one thing, he could not even refer to his opposition by the name they choose for themselves. He insisted on referring to the Democratic agenda as a “Democrat agenda,” — the most tired of McCarthy-era rhetorical tricks.
And a large part of his speech, especially the replay of his Chamber-of-Horrors bombast on immigration, was nothing but partisanship. The usual cast was there, the “ruthless coyotes,” the “cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers,” and, of course, the “caravans.”
He told us that “one in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north” and that “thousands of young girls and women” are sold “into prostitution and modern-day slavery.” But he offered not a single nod to the traditional value of not separating children from their parents when they arrive at our borders.
There was also a mind-boggling moment of perverse Marxism: “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.” (Never mind that his tax cuts might have helped them pay for those things.) Perhaps Trump’s effort to build great fortifications at the border is an ultra-liberal wall redistribution program.
All this was in the service of his main warning: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”
So there you have it in one place: (1) Investigations are as bad as wars; (2) investigations are ridiculous and partisan; and (3) if the economy tanks, it’s because Democrats are investigating him. Oh, and between the lines, beware of all the socialist Democrats who are trying to take him down. “America will never be a socialist country,” he promised. Take that, Sweden and Norway!
The Democratic response to Trump from Stacey Abrams, a gubernatorial candidate from Georgia last year, won unusually good reviews for speeches of its genre, partly because it was blessedly compact compared with the president’s sprawling, undisciplined jumble.
Abrams said what she meant and did not pretend that we were about to enter a fantasyland of miraculously dissolving party differences. She catalogued the issues her party wanted to bring to the fore: the foolishness of Trump’s shutdown, gun safety, student loans, voting rights, the GOP’s reactionary tax bill, farmers caught in a trade war, protecting the Affordable Care Act, climate change, LGBTQ rights.
There was also this on-target reply to Trump’s canard that all who oppose his immigration policies favor “open borders.” Abrams’ answer: “Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders.”
But Abrams’ most powerful contribution to her party’s discourse may have been her open invocation of religious commitment and the virtues it can promote. “These were our family values,” she said of her Methodist home, “faith, service, education and responsibility.”
She spoke of the “uncommon grace of community” and drove the point home by reciting the creed of all who embrace a healthy, measured individualism but reject the narcissistic kind: “We do not succeed alone.”
That Eddie Haskell would never think like that is a measure of who won the night.
E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post.