Donald Trump read a teleprompter-guided speech to a joint session of Congress last night that was softer in tone than his usual dystopian rants. He didn’t froth with insults, sneer disdainfully, gesticulate wildly or drift off message into solipsistic indulgences. Because the bar is set so low for this, the least popular new White House chief executive, his address earned rave reviews from commentators on the left and right for being “presidential.” He also didn’t wear too much artificial tan makeup and orange hair coloring. If it wasn’t yet an Oscar-nomination worthy performance, his calm delivery of a well-crafted speech should give him a bump in public opinion polls, especially from those who embrace rhetorical style and Reaganesque stagecraft as a fitting substitute for substance.
When it came to content, there were no specifics as to exactly what he proposed to do and how he would pay for it. This was true for his lofty language about infrastructure, health care, immigration, tax reform, trade, economics and foreign policy.
His call for a sprit of national unity was refreshing , but it has not yet been matched by proposals designed to bridge our great divides. The speech was little more than a SteveMiller/Ivanka Trump filtered articulation of Steve Bannon’s corrosive three pillars: security from America First sovereignty, economic nationalism and deconstruction of the administrative state, adorned with some velvet bunting.
It was still Campaign 2016 Redux. That meant more erroneous attacks on lawless chaos when crime rates are largely down, arrant dismissal of years of a growing economy and record low unemployment, and dire warnings about immigration that only building a wall can cure. As fact checkers have demonstrated time and time again, most of his adverse characterizations (crime, taking away American jobs, etc) are wrong. Yes, he can cherry pick anecdotes to make a point, but the points earn multiple Pinocchios, misleading as to larger trends. Trump today is the same Trump as yesterday.
The most painful exploitation for symbolic purposes was the long, intense focus on Navy Seal Ryan Owen’s grieving widow, sitting in the gallery next to Ivanka Trump, sobbing her heart out, perhaps reassured by the applause that her husband’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain. The political theater was clearly designed to distract us from appeals for an investigation that might prove otherwise.
Trump’s lobbying restrictions provide more loopholes than they close. And the alligators who dominate his cabinet give little reassurance that he will drain the swamp. His claim to have already saved a great many jobs makes no mention that those jobs, in several cases, reflect decisions made by companies before his Presidency. The number of jobs to be created by the two pipelines are a scant portion of his claim and the steel for the projects are coming from Russia and India.
Trump’s throw away line about the desirability of paid family leave is but one small example of the hollowness of his proposals. He gave no idea whom it would benefit or who would pay. He railed about drugs pouring across our border, but was silent on the sources of our home grown opioid crisis. What was not mentioned was more unsettling than what was.What are the implications of gutting the State Department, EPA and many worthwhile programs?
Most of the speech was about fulfilling campaign promises, but in combination these program items are contradictory, frightening, misleading and don’t add up, individually or collectively. Maybe the President has decided to get Price Waterhouse ‘s Academy Award staff to be America’s official accountants?
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