President Donald Trumpâ€™s State of the Union address had been trailed as an appeal for unity - and, by the presidentâ€™s standards, it almost was. Despite some jarring moments, he made a passable attempt at a presidential tone, calling for governing â€śnot as two parties but as one nation,â€ť and speaking of a â€śnew opportunityâ€ť in U.S. politics for those with the courage to seize it.
The question is whether these gestures are to be taken seriously. The next week will give the answer, because without a deal on funding the government, Washington will shut down again on Feb. 15 and dysfunction will reach new depths.
Trump has been insisting on a border wall that two years of GOP rule failed to supply, and which the Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives are no closer to authorizing.
He could have had his money for barriers long ago in exchange for modest concessions on immigration policy. He insisted on severe cuts in legal immigration and the deal fell apart.
Tuesday night Trump declared his support for additional legal immigration without acknowledging this history.
He also seemed to grant that his wall might now be a lot smaller than the wall he first had in mind. If he can be taken at his revised word on both points, a compromise should be possible. Both sides could then declare victory and the government could stay open.
Some of Trumpâ€™s other proposals were puzzling in the same way. For instance, he said he wants to require insurers to cover patientsâ€™ pre-existing health conditions - again, contrary to his administrationâ€™s policy of late. Again, one hopes he delivers.
The strangest moment was when the president complained about investigations into his businesses, foundation, inauguration and administration.
â€śIf there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,â€ť the president said. Republicans in the chamber presumably understood that the line was meant to be applauded, but found it too bewildering to oblige. It will take more than nonsense, even if it rhymes, to deflect the multiple inquiries that are under way.
The president certainly had a point when he talked of the benefits of bipartisan cooperation in a worthy cause - and the example he emphasized was a good one. Congress passed a valuable if modest criminal-justice reform, and the president did sign it. If only more such initiatives could succeed.
Thereâ€™s no shortage of candidates: Policy on opioids, drug prices, infrastructure investment and other critical matters should not divide the parties and fall victim to Washingtonâ€™s paralysis.
No sane person would have listened to this speech and thought, â€śTrump has changed.â€ť Whatever the state of the union, the state of his administration leaves much to be desired. But hope springs eternal.
If the next pointless government shutdown can be avoided after all, reckless optimism might anyway endure for one more week.