Once a year, Donald Trump gives an uncharacteristically bipartisan speech to Congress. It is customarily sandwiched — often within hours — by venomous expressions of partisanship. Trump’s 2019 state of the union was no exception. Earlier in the day, the president described Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, as a “nasty son of a bitch”, and Joe Biden, the former vice-president, as “dumb”. A few hours later he called on Americans to “rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together”. The puzzle is why he bothers to go through the motions. Perhaps even Trump — the noisiest iconoclast ever to occupy the White House — feels bound by the weight of tradition. The difference is that his third attempt at conjuring national unity deceived no one. His first address to Congress, which took place shortly after his infamous “American carnage” inaugural address in 2017, won rapturous reviews. Otherwise implacable critics said he had finally taken on a presidential ...

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