Politics roundup: Why is everyone so upset over the State of the Union?


Why has the upcoming State of the Union address caused so much government drama? All that and more in this week’s politics roundup.

Fighting over the State of the Union address

It doesn’t do us much good to pretend that the current fight over the State of the Union address, itself related to the current record-breaking fight over the border wall and subsequent government shutdown, is anything other than a petty face-off.

There are plenty of important things going on, to be sure. Thousands of government employees were, until very recently,  out of work, thanks to the longest government shutdown in United States history. Important services were being withheld or threatened, including, potentially, food assistance programs, national parks work, and federal oversight like that undertaken by the FDA. In the middle is the looming demand of $5.7 billion for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

The President wanted it to make good on a signature campaign promise (and potentially up his chances for a 2020 reelection campaign). Congressional Democrats and some Republicans don’t want to throw money at a controversial enterprise like the wall, especially when they have their own 2020 elections to consider.

On Friday, however, the President shocked many by announcing a retreat of sorts. He agreed to reopen the government for at least three weeks.  During that time, the President, members of his staff, and members of Congress will meet in an attempt to reach a mutually agreeable plan. If they can’t work things out by February 15, a new shutdown could commence. The White House has also hinted that it could go ahead and declare a national emergency at the border, circumventing the need for Congressional approval and clearing the path for a physical wall.

Even then, there is still this current upset over the State of the Union address. It’s still unclear when that address, which could be an easy win for the President, will occur. Even if it does happen soon,  it remains a fight for control of who gets to talk on television, who gets to present their side of a fight for the longest period of airtime. Compared to a TSA agent who was compelled to work for no pay, whether or not the President or the Speaker of the House gets to bloviate over an annual speech seems, frankly, unworthy of our attention.

The President saw his approval ratings plummet in response to the shutdown. Likely, that played a major role in his latest decision to play nice. Earlier, he also effectively conceded a major battle to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, admitting that he won’t be able to deliver the State of the Union address in the House of Representatives.

Previously, the White House threatened to take the speech elsewhere, but that doesn’t seem to have panned out, either. Neither can the President simply walk into Congress and make the speech, as there has to be a vote to approve a concurrent session of both the House and the Senate for the State of the Union to happen.

For Pelosi and House Democrats, there was only one option: open up the government first. Then, we’ll speak. This time, at least, they appear to have won.

What’s a president to do? He could have doubled down and attempted to wait out Pelosi and other Democrats. That could have backfired, given that any ire over the government shutdown seems more and more directed at the White House than Congress.

Thursday saw a vote in the House to move forward with two different bills to temporarily open the government while negotiations continued. Some Democrats are also open to increased spending for border security in general, though not for a wall in particular. Even with the government reopened and federal workers receiving back pay, the future of the deal is weighed down with questions. Who will cede ground? Will actual border security funding land anywhere near $5.7 billion? Even if something does go up, it’s not sure whether it will be a “big, beautiful wall“, a rather smaller fence, or something else entirely.

Venezuela calls it quits with America

The United States is not the only nation with presidential woes. Currently, Venezuela is going through considerable upheaval thanks to competing presidents. Nicolas Maduro, who has been the de facto president since 2013, claims that he is the rightful head of state. Juan Guaidó, opposition leader, has said that he’s, in fact, the real president and will hold rightful elections later this year.

Soon after Guaidó made his claim, the United States, Canada, and a number of Latin American countries like Brazil and Colombia have announced their support. They argue that Maduro, a socialist who is fond of strong-arm policies, has no business claiming leadership of Venezuela. Russia, meanwhile, has telegraphed its support of Maduro’s government by landing two of its bombers in Venezuelan territory. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly condemned the move, followed swiftly by a Russian condemnation of Pompeo himself.

Maduro followed up this spate of international drama by banning all U.S. diplomats from Venezuela, giving them 72 hours to leave the country. The United States retaliated by stating that, since it does not recognize the Maduro government as a legitimate power, he has no business telling diplomats what to do.

However, Maduro’s government still has control of the state, making the status of an opposition government uncertain. What’s the point of a pro-America Guaidó if he has no real power? Venezuela has already seen significant unrest, thanks to rampant political corruption and a flailing economy. Once one of the richest nations in the region thanks to huge oil reserves, Venezuela now finds itself especially vulnerable.

Military transgender ban to take effect

When this is over, at least, for many we hope that this steaming mess of a government will turn over into something marginally more respectable by the end of 2020, there is going to be a lot of cleanup to do.

Take the transgender military ban. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of the ban, which bars transgender people from entering the armed services. The ban isn’t an immediate effect, however, thanks to an injunction in a Maryland federal court. The Supreme Court decision, however, could mean that the injunction is on its way out.

Troops who were actively serving before the vote can still serve in their “preferred gender”. New service members with gender dysphoria can only continue on if they tough it out in their “biological sex” — that is, the sex they were assigned at birth. Anyone who has already transitioned is out, supposedly because the costs of paying for transgender people’s medical care and dealing with possibly non-existent troop confusion is all too much.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

I am no fun at Renaissance fairs. I know just a bit too much about the time period, enough to want to shout at people for wearing synthetic fabrics and having clean teeth. Never mind the anachronistic horror of people in elf ears or fairy wings. Really, I’m a horrible wet blanket who has a hard time relaxing in the name of fun. At least I’m okay at the ax throwing booth.

So, what is the deal with Renaissance fairs anyway? Where did they come from? In the United States, they first started popping up in the 1960s as small, often education-focused affairs. Arguably, they owe a debt to the folk music revival going on around that same time, which could often involve fair ladies, knights, and songs about herbs and bitter exes.

Must Read. How has the political landscape changed since Obama’s inauguration?. light

Phyllis Patterson, a Los Angeles school teacher, is arguably one of the progenitors of the modern American fair circuit. Phyllis really knew how to rock both event organizing and a good flowy sleeve.

There’s actually quite a lot more to the history of Renaissance fairs. If you’re intrigued, check out this Slate review of Well Met, a recent book about the phenomenon of American Renaissance fests. While you’re at it, you may want to read Well Met itself, by Rachel Lee Rubin.