Last night our nation’s President, Donald J. Trump, addressed the members of our Congress, their distinguished guests and, via the media, all the people of our United States.
I won’t get into the details of what he said, what words were true or false, substantive or empty, promising or disheartening. Probably most of you reading this either tuned in to the address or have seen the media’s reports since then. My comments on specifics won’t add anything new.
In looking at that last sentence I’m now realizing that despite all the media coverage of the 90 minutes that Trump spent talking, there actually wasn’t much “news” that did come out of it. There were abrupt changes of subject, mood shifts (one columnists used “whiplash” to describe the zigzagging experience). But every viewer came away no better informed about what to expect or hope for in the coming year. Perhaps some of that is because we’ve learned not to trust anything the President says from one day to the next.
By now I do know that Trump’s style is to keep everyone he deals with off balance. However, he did give a few signals as to where he’s headed in the coming year.
His statement that he “will never let the United States become a Socialist country” told me that we will be hearing that message regularly during his campaign to be reelected in 2020. He saw how emphasizing healthcare helped Democrats win a House majority. And now he’s seeing declared and prospective Democratic presidential candidates talking about some form of “Medicare for all.” – Labeling such proposals as “dangerous socialism” is Trump’s first shot fired across their bow.
And as was expected, President Trump used his address to once again declare that we are facing “an urgent national crisis” on our “very dangerous” southern border. It is being easily penetrated by (immigrant-smuggling) “coyotes, drug cartels, and human traffickers.” What’s worse, right now large caravans are being organized “with the help of the Mexican Government.” (In fact, the Mexican government has issued Mexican visas to Central Americans who’ve entered Mexico.) According to our president, this situation will bring an onslaught of illegal immigrants threatening the safety, security and financial well being of American workers. Once again, he said a wall is the answer.
By now anyone who’s been paying attention to this debate has concluded that Trump’s original campaign promise of a Mexico-financed 2000-mile long border wall was crazy. And I assume that includes at least some Republicans in Congress. The size of Trump’s wall demands has now been considerably scaled back, but the $5.7 billion he wants hasn’t been reduced. Is there now room for some sort of bipartisan cooperation? Or is another government shutdown imminesnt? Last night’s address didn’t make that any clearer.
There was one brief but chilling moment when Trump spoke of his desire for more cooperation between his administration and Congress. But then he went on to mention, rather pointedly, that, “investigations hurt cooperation.” Was he warning House Democrats that he will use the powers of his office – including future shutdowns –to fight back against any investigation of him or his family? Or was his language meant to prepare his supporters for future investigations, positioning the Democratic House as simply partisan enemies of Trump and his programs. How cornered does President Trump feel?
With all that said, here are the three strongest impressions I received from The State of the Union Address:
First, President Donald J. Trump could very well be the weirdest president our country has ever experienced. Watching him read his address from teleprompter screens with a wispy, singsong delivery and a carefully measured, almost robotic cadence was just plain bizarre. At times it felt like he was channeling someone reading a funeral eulogy for a person he’d never met.
Second, as we’ve seen from post-address fact checkers, there were a number of statements made by the President that were less than completely factual. Of course at this point the majority of Americans know that Donald Trump can be counted on to regularly lie. But there was one moment that, although true, was not only a callous use of a bereaving family put on display, but clearly a distortion of reality and a dangerous generalization with racist overtones. The family, seated in the House gallery, had lost a loved one to murder by an illegal immigrant. The President featured this tragedy in his remarks with the clear implication that all illegal immigrants from south of our border are potentially heartless murderers.
This so illogical that if the facts weren’t so tragic such fear mongering would be laughable. For the President to feature this moment in his address is wrong in so many ways. There is little question that Donald Trump is a clever and crafty salesman. But as a human being, the man is definitely stupid.
And my third impression? The Republicans in Congress apparently couldn’t care less about any of this. I’ll talk about that some more in a future commentary.
Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973
PS: This Thursday, and Friday (Febrary 7 and 8) from 2-5pm, Daniel Biss will be a guest host on WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk radio station. He’s put together an exciting lineup of guests and topics ranging from very local to global, He hopes you’ll tune in. You can also call in to ask a question or share your thoughts at 773-763-WCPT (9278) or click here to listen online. wcpt820.com