My fellow Americans, the State of the Union is … irrelevant. As the speech has become less important, presidents’ rhetoric has grown more frantically stentorian. Presidential scholar Elvin T. Lim notes “increasing rhetorical assertiveness” and “an increasing lack of humility” in the language of the SOTU over time. Modern presidents speak more often of “reform,” while “references to (and hence concern for) the Constitution and constitutional in the annual messages have declined.” Gene Healy writes that, in its modern form, the SOTU is a meaningless ritual that rarely even does the president—let alone the public—any good.
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