The federal deficit.
The government shutdown (past).
Tax cuts for the rich.
The government shutdown (impending).
Not one single reference to any of these topics formed a conga line of telling omissions from President Trump’s grand speech to the nation on Tuesday night.
The State of the Union was described by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) as “very powerful and patriotic,” one that “opens a door to a new era of unity.
“Hopefully tonight marks a new night where we can come together and solve America’s problems in a bipartisan way,” Walden said.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) had this to say:
“Our nation faces three incredibly daunting challenges today: The corruption of our democracy; the undermining of the fundamentals for thriving families; and carbon pollution driving climate chaos and threatening the future of our planet.
“For over an hour and a half, the American people listened to President Trump deliver his State of the Union address, and not once did we hear him confront any of these major challenges.
“This wasn’t an address designed to bring America together. It was a profoundly partisan speech lacking in any kind of leadership.”
Where to begin with Trump’s jumbled, self-congratulatory (even where he could claim no credit) and self-contradictory 82-minute rally talk?
He contradicted his argument that the American economy is “flourishing like never before” when, in calling for a wall and more troops and enforcement of “our very dangerous southern border,” he made the claim that illegal immigration “is causing reduced jobs and wages.”
He drove home his points about the border in part by opting for the new word “onslaught” rather than his old “invasion” as part of his murky statement that new caravans of Latin American people … are headed our way … right … now.
Besides the shocking and irresponsible statement that, “If I had not been elected, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea,” comes his blithe pledge to spend more on military than any other nation, which is already the case, and his willful misstatements about the nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran (he understates the former and overstates the latter), countervailing the information provided by U.S. intelligence services.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are constrained by SOU tradition from applauding, and they almost never did during the speech, but they did exhibit revealing looks of discomfort and doubt on their faces whenever Trump spoke about defense, national security and homeland security.
The maven of MAGA seemed to try to gird his brand at the same time saying of America, “We have not yet begun to dream.” Does he not see how insulting such a comment is, aside from being inaccurate and self-contradictory?
The speech underscored once more in Donald Trump the distinction between self-awareness and mere awareness of self.
He went on, “We must choose whether we are defined by our differences — or whether we dare to transcend them.” This question applies to everyone except himself.
Witness his self-contradiction when, after introducing D-Day veterans and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, he stated, “Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress toward equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.”
But Americans have “not yet begun to dream.”
He created the MAGA brand in the reverse of the old marketing trick of promoting your product as if it has something none of its competitors do. In Trump’s case, he has gulled a large portion of the population into believing something is missing that has been there all along — that we have not continued to be a great nation, when we did not need Donald Trump to make us great.
With MAGA, he served the snake-oil that we are less than we are, in the interest of self-aggrandizement. And with his own speech, he revealed the fallacy of his own tactics.
I haven’t watched every SOU, but this is the first one I’m aware of that featured repeated “USA! USA!” chants, which I feel have no place. It is a solemn speech, not a political rally.
But Trump did, of course, make it political, with perhaps his most galling comment of the night, while talking about economic progress. Nothing can get in the way of economic progress, he said, “Except foolish wars, politics, and ridiculous partisan investigations.”
He clearly expected applause from his supporters and did not get it. What he got was resounding silence at a statement that simultaneously makes no sense and violates his own call for unity.
Then, doggerel that passes for political insight: “If there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just does not work that way.”
Trump is known for his word salads, but the jocular quality of that term goes off the menu when he says, “We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.”
Placing things as opposites or extremes is enough of a contradiction of his own shallow notion of unity, but to juxtapose resistance in the same word position as vengeance and pointless destruction is an insidious shopping-cart denigration of the democratic ideals of dissent. I believe this was Trump’s most disturbing set of statements, designed to mis-associate concepts in ways Orwell would appreciate.
Unity, President Trump, does not mean “agree with me and do my bidding.”
Further, Trump’s summary denigration of socialism as a concept was also bothersome: “We are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
Changes in health insurance coverage to benefit low and middle-income people, and returning the U.S. to the 70 percent tax (in place from the 1930s to 1980) are about responsibility by the government and the capitalist system, not “coercion, domination or control.” People of free and open societies around the world benefit already from elements rightly called socialism, and they speak freely and select their governments just as our own democratic ideals envision.
It needs noting that a democratic socialist is not a Marxist socialist or a communist. A democratic socialist is still a capitalist, but one who seeks to restrain the excesses of capitalism and channel government’s use of taxes into creating opportunities for everyone. Its ideals aspire to meeting human needs, not profits.
And with that, one final point: In his speech, the president did a certain thing and he did it just one time — and it gave me a chill. It happened when he mentioned that the U.S. is now the world’s largest exporter of oil and natural gas. He punctuated the statement by briskly pointing and winking at someone in the front rows.
Where was he pointing? Who was the beneficiary of profit deserving such a grand gesture?