Not to start too pessimistically, but let’s be honest with one another.

The pomp and scale that surrounds Washington, D.C. is a skeleton of the past. That’s not meant to refer solely to the architecture, the fake-it-’till-you-make-it pretensions of a young country written in marble. It refers to much of the pageantry that we still embrace, beyond modern utility or necessity. It refers, to be direct, to the State of the Union Address.

The State of the Union Address used to be the State of the Union letter, thanks, in part, to John Baird’s only having invented television more than a century into our nation’s existence. But even at the outset, the State of the Union was actually just “the state of the union,” listed in Article II of the Constitution in the spirit of a job requirements listing on a Craigslist help-wanted ad. The president, it reads, shall “from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union,” and also deal with ambassadors, and obey the law, and also be proficient in Microsoft Office.

In 1789, it was perhaps useful to remind the president of the importance of keeping Congress (then numbering fewer than 100 people) up to speed on what was happening in the nation on the whole. The utility of that has declined significantly, what with Twitter and so on. Woodrow Wilson began the idea of giving those updates as a speech; Franklin Roosevelt made the State of the Union a spectacle. And once a spectacle is begun in Washington, D.C., it’s got inertia.

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