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Twitter makes Trump look big. The presidency makes him look small.

President Donald Trump’s 2018 State of the Union was as promised: a reasonably normal speech, read in a reasonably normal way, by a politician for whom the bar is set far, far below “reasonably normal.” And so we can expect the celebration, the hosannas, the cheers that accompany Trump’s occasional forays into acting, just for a moment, like his predecessors.

And yet, watching Trump’s speech, watching him hold back the chaos and energy and fury and strangeness that has defined his political career, I couldn’t help thinking that Donald Trump is the only politician in American history who looks smaller when surrounded by the trappings of the presidency.

Take away Trump’s Twitter account, his feuds, the circus-like atmosphere he brings to politics, and what is left, exactly? A novice politician struggling mightily, visibly, to stay on-script. A man play-acting at the role of the presidency, reading lines he does not seem to fully believe or understand, mouthing fealty to an agenda he was meant to disrupt, confined to a cadence he finds unnatural, overwhelmed by the swamp he promised to master, clapping for himself directly into the microphone.

Trump’s speech was a lengthy, cherrypicked tour of his administration’s record. He read the remarks verbatim, though at times it seemed to pain him to bite back the ad libs and meta-commentary that make his rallies so compulsively watchable. “We have gone forward with a clear vision and a righteous mission,” he said, “to make America great again for all Americans.” He didn’t pick fights, or launch attacks, or lash the media, or complain about “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer.” At times, the speech looked as it were beamed from Earth-2, where Donald Trump is a normal, if slightly dull, career politician.

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