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A Trump campaign rally -- or the SOTU

The State of the Union address (SOTU) dates back to 1913 when Woodrow Wilson stood before Congress and delivered what had been previously a written report. The spirit of the SOTU is bipartisan, somber, while providing the president an opportunity to propose a legislative agenda, a budget message and a list of national priorities.

What those who watched last week’s SOTU saw was something remarkably different. It was a campaign rally, beginning with Trump walking down the aisle and up to the dais and standing behind the podium while listening to the congressional Republicans enthusiastically chanting, “four more years!” Trump clapped, as he often does, smiling, raising a hand. When the cheering began to quiet, he turned and as tradition prescribes gave a copy of his speech to the vice president and then to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held out her right hand as she accepted her copy. Trump ignored the proffered handshake and turned back to the podium and began reading from the teleprompter. That moment set the tone for the remainder of the night.

What Trump delivered was a deeply partisan stump speech, meant for the Republicans seated to his left who, at every opportunity, stood to clap and cheer. It was a made-for-television reality show, filled with high drama, cynical in its use of those citizens who were invited guests.

One such moment came when Trump paused in the middle of his speech to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, a highly partisan talk-show host who, year after year, has denigrated the Democratic Party and those seated just beyond. Melania Trump, standing next to Limbaugh, held up the medal and fastened it around his neck.

The speech was filled with exclamations that telegraphed Trump’s campaign themes, many delivered with exaggeration and punctuated with flat-out lies, all said with conviction and practiced aplomb while looking directly into the camera. It’s a remarkable ability to be able to prevaricate with such audacity, righteousness and shamelessness, as if to dare anyone listening to fact-check his assertions.

But then it’s extraordinary to have the president of the United States leave in his wake some 16,000 false and misleading statements as of last month, combined with the Mueller report, the House inquiry, followed by two articles of impeachment, and a Senate trial.

But what I want to do here is point to just one lie, told boldly during the speech, spoken without a hint of hesitation and therefore chilling in the extreme.

Trump said, “I’ve made an ironclad pledge to American families. We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions. But as we work to improve Americans’ health care, there are those who want to take away your health care, take away your doctor ”

This is a massive falsehood. The truth is that the Trump administration long ago joined a lawsuit, Texas v. United States, with the sole purpose of eradicating the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), root and branch. This lawsuit is making its way through the courts, initially based on the argument that the “individual mandate” was unconstitutional. That mandate has since been excised, but ACA still remains and so the suit continues, convoluted to be sure, but tenaciously moving forward.

If Trump’s administration prevails in striking down the ACA, some 130 million Americans will lose their health insurance, including the pre-existing condition protection.

The other truth is that, while the Republicans have tried year after year to cripple and end the ACA, they have failed to craft (as perpetually promised) a health care plan that, as Trump often insists, will be not only cheaper but offer more coverage. They have no such alternative. There is no replacement. It’s a lie. There is only repeal without replacement. No matter what Trump said at his rally, aka the SOTU.

Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.