SOTU? Why Trump’s Speech Isn’t the State of the Union (and Why That’s a Good Thing)

Whatever your politics, you should be glad Trump isn’t calling this the State of the Union

Last Updated: February 28, 2017 @ 11:17 AM

President Trump’s address to both houses of Congress tonight might look, feel or even sound like a State of the Union, but it won’t actually be a State of the Union. Here’s why.

Traditionally, a president is in office for a year before giving the State of the Union. The reason is commonsensical enough: A new president generally isn’t responsible for the state of the union — good or bad — after just a few weeks in office. Taking the credit or blame for the state of the union would be unfair to the new president, his predecessor, or both.

We’ve been through this before: Check out this 2009 NPR story, explaining why Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress — and the nation — wasn’t a State of the Union either.

As CNN notes, President George Washington was the first to address a joint session of Congress, in New York in 1790. (Why not in Washington, DC? Because it didn’t exist in any form we would recognize today: It wasn’t until July 16, 1790, that Washington signed the Residence Act, which created the capital we know and love — or hate, depending. The federal government moved there in 1800.)

The president’s annual message to Congress was rather un-creatively known as “the President’s Annual Message to Congress” — until 1934, when President (and branding genius) Franklin D. Roosevelt referred to it as the “Annual Message to Congress on the State of the Union.”

Of course, Trump could choose to call this address the State of the Union, just as Obama could have done in 2009, as NPR explained. As we learned in 1934, the speech is called whatever the president wants to call it.

But chances are, Trump doesn’t want to stand before the nation and say the state of the nation isn’t great — which seemed to be his assessment up until he took office. He stated just last week, “I inherited a mess.”

Does anyone think it would look good for the president — or any president — to stand before the world and say the State of the Union is a mess?

President Trump is scheduled to speak tonight at 9 ET, 6 PT.