Same Trump, New Shine
Trump’s Congressional address gave his nightmarish agenda a newly “presidential” gloss. We should be worried.
By Branko Marcetic
Donald Trump’s — or perhaps more accurately, Steve Bannon’s — first address to Congress was a master class in doing what Trump does best: combining right-wing populist rhetoric with a mishmash of falsehoods, scapegoating, and brazen corporatism.
Despite widespread media reports that Trump has somehow turned over a new leaf simply by learning to read a teleprompter, the president that spoke before Congress cited just as many lies and promoted the same xenophobic, pro-corporate, war-hungry policies as the Trump we’ve seen over the last few months. What gave the speech a different flavor, however, was the administration’s signaled intent to refocus on and refine a populist image following a chaotic, politically damaging month.
That he largely seems to have succeeded should worry us.
Same Policies, New Shine
Much of the immediate response to Trump’s speech has focused on how supposedly “presidential” it was, as well as fact-checking the numerous half- and full un-truths contained therein — by now a regular and necessary, if not always effective, ritual that accompanies every one of his public addresses. And to be fair, regarding the latter, there was a lot to choose from.
He took credit, for instance, for the fact that companies like Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, and Walmart were investing and creating jobs in the United States, despite the fact that all of those companies had announced those plans long before he became president. He suggested that environmental regulations caused the loss of coal mining jobs, not the widespread shift to exploitation of natural gas, as is the reality. He claimed he would “provide massive tax relief for the middle class,” despite the fact that his tax plan raises taxes on 8 million low and middle class families while giving massive cuts to the wealthy.
Some were more shameless than others. Trump paid lip service to investing in women’s health and promoting clean air and water, despite the fact that his administration has prominently done the exact opposite. In a line that elicited audible laughter, he claimed to “have begun to drain the swamp of government corruption,” even as his administration is mired in countless conflicts of interest. The list could go on and on.
There was plenty else to dislike. Trump briefly mentioned the spate of recent anti-Semitic incidents (ones he first refused to answer a question about, then later reportedly suggested were false flags), and referred to “last week’s shooting in Kansas City” without mentioning that it was an attack on two Indian men driven by anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim motives.
By contrast, he spoke at length about murders committed by undocumented immigrants, and had invited four family members of victims of such murders to attend the event, whom he singled out by name during the speech.
He at one point pointedly used the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” over-enunciating the words in a seemingly deliberate rebuke of his newly appointed National Security Advisor’s reported warning that the term is unhelpful.
And despite the fact that he had earlier attempted to duck responsibility for a botched SEAL raid in Yemen that killed at least thirty people including nine children and resulted in a SEAL’s death, he now appeared to defend it, quoting his Defense Secretary as saying it was “highly successful” and yielded “large amounts of vital intelligence.” In fact, the al-Qaeda operative targeted by the raid escaped unharmed, and several officials told NBC they were unaware of any actionable intelligence the raid produced.