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Judd Gregg: Trump and Pelosi — Who's crazy now?

When evaluating the state of our politics right now, one is drawn back to the State of the Union speech of almost four weeks ago.

There was something about the event that defined the dysfunction of our political system.

The State of the Union is an annual landmark that is intended to bring together all the branches, all the parties and all the personages of our national leadership in one room.

The room is the chamber of the House of Representatives.

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It is a hall filled with an unparalleled history.

In this forum President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of the Day of Infamy.

At the chamber’s dais, British prime minister Winston Churchill thanked Americans for their sacrifice in defeating fascism and warned of coming tests with the Soviet Union and totalitarian socialism.

In that unique and extraordinary setting, President Reagan set the course for the end of the Cold War.

These gatherings in the House of Representative have brought forth emotional and essential speeches. They have defined and guided not only our nation but also people across the globe who seek liberty and economic opportunity.

The State of the Union speech has also traditionally had as one of its purposes reassuring the nation that we are still on the path laid out in our constitution by Madison, Washington, Franklin, Adams and the other founders of our country.

Then came the State of the Union of this January, 2020.

What a change.

It is a truism that disruption is the theme of our time.

This State of the Union certainly met that test.

It had a distinct taste of the 1950s theatre of the absurd recast in the clothing of 2020.

Grandness was not a word one would associate with the evening.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE, upon entering the chamber, strutted down the center aisle surrounded on one side by adoring chanters called Republican members of the House of Representatives, and on the other side by the vociferous promoters of his impeachment and removal from office called Democratic members of the House of Representatives.

This set the tone for what was to be a night of surreal theatre.

Consider how it then unfolded.

The president refused to shake the hand of the Speaker, Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal Top GOP senator warns government funding deal unlikely this week Houston will send residents checks of up to ,200 for pandemic relief MORE (D-Calif.).  Then for good measure, and because he did not want to be too obvious in his disdain, he also did not shake the hand of Vice President Pence.

Some of his pundit defenders claimed this was just an oversight.

It rather stretches credulity to believe this was an oversight.

It was what it was. It was the president tweaking the Speaker in a most public way.

Then, throughout the speech, the Speaker returned the favor with moans and groans as the president set forth his accomplishments. The Speaker did not see them as such and sighed her disdain.

The president, ever the showman and clearly wanting to set a new precedent for lessening the stature of the occasion, called on his wife to pin the presidential Medal of Freedom on Rush Limbaugh.

Of course, the idea that a talk radio shock-jock should be given the Medal of Freedom during a State of the Union speech was, in and of itself, a significant injury to the purpose of the evening.

The speech had some good parts, but they were buried beneath its staging.

When it was over, in one of the more bizarre conclusions ever observed, the Speaker, standing behind the president, tore up her paper copy of the speech.

She did not do this casually. She tore away at it with purpose.

The Speaker marched off to give her press conference where she proclaimed that the president’s speech was all lies and untruths.

Thus she had to eviscerate the paper upon which it was written and which had been so unceremoniously handed to her.

She had to do it.

Some said that the president had driven the Speaker over the edge.

She had come to Washington as a rational, thoughtful, liberal congresswoman and risen to the second most important position in our government.

But now the president had driven her crazy.

Maybe.

Tormenting the poor pieces of paper on which the speech was written does not have many other plausible explanations.

It definitely left the viewers, the people of the nation and the world, a bit stunned.

Or maybe the answer is that this was not really the State of the Union.

It was a rehearsal for a “Saturday Night Live” skit: a performance with the actors being the Congress and the president.

The president loves to perform. What better stage than the State of the Union?

He does have a tendency to say outlandish things, attack his opponents with curious, mimicking phrases and antics, and make claims that bear little resemblance to the actual facts. It is a style that could fall into the category of…well…crazy.

Like a short before the full-length movie, this State of the Union may well have been just a preview of coming attractions.

Washington does seem to have gone crazy.

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There is little glimmer of actual governing going on. There is a great deal of exaggerated posturing occurring. There is a distinct shortage of rational behavior by our present leaders when compared to leaders we have had in past years.

This may go on for some time.

The president will torment the Speaker; the Speaker will torment the president. Then we will have, coming on the scene from stage left, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (I-Vt.), who will torment everyone.

What is truly strange and disconcerting about the times, though, is that the stable folks left in Washington — especially in the Senate, where a number of rational people still reside on both sides of the aisle — are so silent.

No one stands up and says: We need to get back some decency, responsibility and maturity in our political system in Washington.

Craziness may be entertaining to watch. It often is the essence of populist movements. But it is also fundamentally damaging to a democratic government, which only operates well when it is led well.

If the sequel to this short, one-act “Saturday Night Live” bit that was supposed to be the State of the Union is a full-length presentation of the same, then we are all in for some unfortunate times.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.