Whatever you may think of Donald Trump the person or even the president, you must admit the man is a gifted showman. Trump's ability to put on a great act may stem from his years on prime-time network television hosting "The Apprentice," but it also comes from his style of conducting business. The Trump brand is very much Donald Trump the man. He has always had to put on a great performance to add an aspirational quality to his namesake firm. Despite numerous bankruptcies Trump the man survived because of Trump the brand. This ability has allowed him to both understand what his audience wants and to pivot to it whenever necessary. The State of the Union address delivered Tuesday night was one of Trump's best performances and had so many masterful pivots that even the most graceful of ballerinas would be envious and make the uninitiated's head spin.
Any viewer who tuned in to the State of the Union at random points in the speech could have mistaken the speaker for a progressive president in the vein of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Trump emphasized the need for paid-family-leave, allowing mothers and fathers of newborns to take time off of work. He took credit for increasing the employment of women to the highest levels in nearly five decades and that 56 percent of new jobs created in the economy were filled by women. Sitting to the right of the President were the democrats and a sea of white. Many of the female members of the party were dressed in white as form of solidarity in opposition to Trump and his policies. Mention of some of these progressive stances brought a standing ovation from the Democrats as well to which Trump responded jokingly, "you weren't supposed to do that," implying they were forced to not applause by some agreement.
For those of whom who assumed these statements from Trump meant he had softened up in his rhetoric, they needed only to wait a few minutes to watch Trump pivot back to pleasing his base. Trump went to work in lambasting the New York legislature in approving legislation that would allow late-term abortions. Trump for many decades said he was pro-choice and only recently began to tout anti-abortion legislation. That his base has forgiven him for this is a testament to his ability to convince them with his numerous pivots.
Trump went on to say that the United States was and always had been against socialism. Erecting a giant straw-man Trump argued that socialism itself was evil adding, "Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence - not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free."
Trump doubled-down on his attack on socialism by equating the Sanders argument for living wages with a more radical form of "socialism" and equating progressives with Venezuela and the Maduro saying, "We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom - and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in south America into a state of abject poverty and despair." That the conflict in Venezuela has anything to do with what progressives in America are lobbying for seems like a reach, but not for someone as gifted as Trump.
Predictably Trump mentioned "the wall" he has argued needs to be built and threatened to shut down the government once again. He went on to imply that the investigations into his actions may end up hurting the economy and his mention of the strength of the economy and his assumption of the credit for those "achievements" was not surprising. With new winds blowing against an increase in rates and fragile equity markets, Trump may be delivering a very different State of the Union next year. What is for certain, however, is that Trump will pivot again as necessary and do his best to read the room, the electorate of the United States.