Steve’s thoughts on the chasm of disconnect between Trump’s rhetoric for bipartisan co-operation and the nakedly self-serving policies he advocated in his State of the Union.
Donald Trump opened his State of the Union address with a lofty, idealistic call to end partisan bickering and gridlock, urging the legislators before him not to govern as two parties, but as one nation.
It was just about then that we knew we were in for a full evening of unrelenting bullshit.
This is the guy who personally rejected a bipartisan funding proposal to keep the government open in December, triggering a 35 day government shutdown which created ever deepening hardship on government employees, dangerous stress on our commercial aviation system, and billions in economic loss. Trump scolded Congress that government should serve “the agenda of the American people,” while polling data repeatedly showed that the majority of Americans are not interested in his wall, and held Trump personally responsible for the shutdown.
And now, six weeks later, he is shame-talking Congress about their polarized partisan gridlock?
The only thing more disingenuous than Trump talking about his passion for unity would be Bill Belichick advocating that the Vince Lombardi Trophy be shared among the top ten NFL teams.
Sure enough, as Trump trundled through his speech, it became clear that his grand vision of bipartisan comity could easily be accomplished if only the Democrats jumped on board with Trump’s each and every policy initiative. “We must choose between gridlock and greatness,” he noted. Greatness, we were left to infer, is the reward for rolling over and agreeing with Donald.
Fine, give him credit for stagecraft: Trump jammed in a dizzying array of happy-talk stories of World War II vets, rehabilitated drug dealers, brave ICE agents, childhood cancer patients, and heroic policemen, which essentially served to make Trump’s State of the Union speech look like every other one we’ve seen for the past 25 years. That was no doubt comforting to many people. That Trump was hewing so closely to the conventions of this tradition made him appear Presidential, shiny with hastily applied gravitas.
But we are used to this schtick by now. Periodically, Donald Trump is forced to read off a teleprompter, always directly into a television camera broadcasting to the nation and the world. Pundits invariably spout that he appears presidential, but that is only in contrast to the seat-of-the-pants, pull-it-from-deep-in-your-asshole, blabbering, blathering, syntax-free style that is the preferred oratorical manner of this president.
Trump does not slow down and speak in measured tones before a teleprompter to convey gravitas or thoughtful purposefulness. More likely he slows down because he simply doesn’t read very often. He’s not that good at it. He stumbles on the words that exceed two syllables, and often pauses between syllables to make mid-course corrections. (“There is no co – looooooosh – shun with Rush – shahhh!”) He reads slowly because all the words are someone else’s, and he feels naked and vulnerable starting a sentence with little idea about how it will end.
All that said, don’t think that the idea of commandeering the global television stage on the world’s most totes awesome studio set doesn’t give Donald a woody. At least now we know why Donald Trump caved completely on the government shutdown ten days ago, when he summarily announced that he had reached a “deal” to re-open the government that did not include a red cent for his border wall. It was not the threat to our air traffic control system. Nor was it concern for the thousands of government employees whose were suffering for lack of a paycheck. It was simply that Donald Trump lusts for the pomp and circumstance of making a prime time address to a captive audience, and he was ready to spit in Ann Coulter’s eye just to wrench his State of the Union out of Nancy Pelosi’s tight grip.
We will spare you all of the predictable and cheap invocations about “rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure” and even his hideously disingenuous call for affordable healthcare that “protects patients with pre-existing conditions.” Trump’s State of the Union was filled with questionable victory laps on the economy, trade negotiations, and tax reform, wild assertions about the failures of prior administrations, and single sentences promising comprehensive action on massive problems that are clearly going to remain ignored. Little of what is good in the world eluded his effort to claim personal responsibility: only the morning sunrise appears to take place without the involvement of the Trump administration.
Denuded of self-aggrandizing assertions, empty policy nerf balls, cheap oratorical flourishes, and surprise guests in the gallery, the speech was actually notable only for these very specific areas of content:
“An economic miracle is happening in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are wars and partisan investigations.” Say what?? Huh?? Relatively early in his speech, Trump heaved this sloppy curve ball that seemed to leave the entire hall gasping for air. In this loopy, grammatically-challenged, out-of-nowhere non sequitur, Trump appeared to be warning legislators that the ongoing economic viability of the United States could somehow be stunted by the Mueller investigation. If this was intended to presage a Saturday night massacre, it was a prelude that was unaccompanied by logic or rationale. Indeed, this one single sentence out of a hour long speech was the first comment out of the MSNBC commentators, who all seemed to apoplectic at the audacity of Trump’s implication.
The wall: “I will get it built.” By far, the topic that consumed the most oxygen in Trump’s speech was his robust defense of his demand for a border wall. Many of his favorite questionable statistics were flung about the room, and Trump had of course invited a family whose parents had been murdered by undocumented immigrants. There were, in Trump’s view, still more caravans infested with gang members making a “tremendous onslaught” at our Southern border. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on these trips,” Trump asserted with certainty, leading me to wonder what other statistics are routinely maintained by the caravan’s management organization.
Trump appeared to pull out every argument in the book and then some in his desperate defense of the wall. At one point he attempted to turn the matter into a class struggle, noting that those who oppose his wall are the rich elites who live behind gates and guards, while working class Americans pay the price of illegal immigration in the form of overcrowded schools and hospitals. Based on recent polling data, that would suggest that Trump believes that 60% of Americans live in gated communities.
Republicans in the room were no doubt immensely relieved that Trump did not bring up the idea of declaring a national emergency to get his wall built. It is a solution that a number of very prominent Republicans have already rejected, largely because of the dangerous precedent it would set and the erosion of Congressional budgetary authority that would result. But in a “read my lips” moment, Trump did say “I will get it built.” It is unfathomable to think that Republicans would allow another shutdown to take place, and the camera did catch Chuck Schumer with a rather large grin on his face. For whatever positive impact the State of the Union may have on Trump’s approval rating, he is clearly putting it all at risk by doubling down on his wall demand with the deadline for a solution less than ten days away.
Mixed messaging on social policies. On the one hand, Trump used particularly loaded language to castigate states that protect a woman’s right to choose, while aggressively calling for legislation to prohibit late term abortion. However, Trump surprised this writer by expressing very strong advocacy for committing to ending the AIDS and HIV epidemics, and for calling for a nationwide paid family leave policy.
Trump ended his speech with another soaring flight of rhetorical excess which bore no direct connection to the substance and policy he had just articulated, energetically invoking the imagery one might find in one of those cheesy business “inspiration” posters about “doing the impossible,” going to “the tallest summit,” and – most egregiously – telling the legislators not to be “defined by our differences,” but to “dare to transcend them.” This is a President who was elected to office precisely because of his rare talent for creating division, discord, societal polarization, and – yeah – his promise to build a gigantic wall.
In the end, Trump’s grand call for bipartisan unity was nothing more than cheap rhetorical posturing, a marketing hack’s attempt to fool the people that he possesses idealism and vision.
And it is one more shining example of the man’s ignorance of our history, because the United States doesn’t need a sloganeer to tell us about unity.
Indeed, we’ve already got a slogan.
“E Pluribus Unum” is that line that appears on coins, bills, and the official seal of the United States of America that dates back to 1782.
It is Latin for “from many, one.” You know… The United States of America. Many colonies, one Constitution. Many states, one flag. Many faiths, many colors, many talents, many desires, many dreams, many aspirations, many ambitions… one country.
E Pluribus Unum. Call it the original state of the union. And it sure seems that it was a more perfect union then than the one we have with this ignorant clown running the show.
All we got last night was a hopelessly self-centered blowhard pretending to revere our history of unity, of country before party, of sacrifice for future generations, all to serve his own political and personal agendas.
To preserve our economy, stop the investigation into the corruption and criminal activity in my campaign and administration.
To protect us from being overrun by an invasion of killers and drug dealers, build the wall that I promised to my base.
I will end the shutdown, so that I can have my prime time moment of glory on national television.
No, Donald, the state of our union is not strong. It is threatened as it has never been before by a human wrecking ball who will destroy its every institution if that is what is required to keep him and his family out of jail.
Your slogan is “E Unum, Pluribus.” Turn one into many. Divide and conquer.
That is the real state of our union, and it should scare the crap out of every one of us... The United States of America: E Pluribus, Donald.
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