From The Progressive, January 1951
As he settles into office, Donald Trump has succeeded in setting an extraordinarily low bar for himself. How else to explain the widespread praise for his “presidential” demeanor in his appearance before a joint session of Congress on February 28? Compared with his angry, apocalyptic Inaugural Address, Trump sounded relatively coherent, or at least not stark raving mad. But there was nothing reassuring about his speech.
He began with a cynical tribute to Black History Month and the civil rights movement, as if his entire campaign had not relied on race-baiting the nation’s first black President and garnering the enthusiastic support of white supremacists and hate groups nationwide.
Trump got props for condemning an upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks since his election—something he had previously refused to do.
“We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” he declared. The prettier forms of hate and evil are another matter.
“We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms."
Republicans who, with Trump’s help, have been pursuing a deliberate strategy to disenfranchise black voters through voter ID laws surged to their feet to applaud Trump’s celebration of “our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains.” (That work apparently includes the retreat by Trump’s Department of Justice from civil rights litigation, including in a key voting rights case in Texas.)
Trump reiterated his talking points about inheriting “a mess” from President Obama—painting a picture of a dangerous, divided, and economically devastated nation.
Even after his recent discovery that “nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” Trump dwelt heavily, and disingenuously, on his plans to work with Congress “to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster.”
Listening to Trump and the Republicans in Congress, you would think that the biggest domestic crisis Americans face today (apart from the scourge of violent crimes committed by immigrants, who are actually far less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans) is President Obama’s expansion of health care coverage to millions of previously uninsured citizens.
Some of those citizens have been showing up at their legislators’ Congressional offices and town hall meetings to express concern about Republican efforts to “protect” them from Obamacare by freeing them to take their chances in an expensive and unregulated private health care market.
As worried constituents implore their representatives to keep the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans’ stale talking points attacking government-run health care sound more and more out of touch.
It was remarkable to see Senator Ted Cruz, at a town-hall style debate with Senator Bernie Sanders, try out those talking points on Americans who are desperately worried about losing their health care.
Again and again, when people asked Cruz if he could promise them that they wouldn’t lose the coverage they gained under the Affordable Care Act, Cruz dodged the questions. He rejected the idea that people have a right to health care, praised “freedom” as a counterpoint to socialism, and said that the Republicans will protect everyone’s right to health care “access.”
“You have access right now,” Sanders said, turning to a woman in the audience who had said she couldn’t afford insurance. “Go out and get a really great health insurance program. All right? Oh, you can’t do it because you can’t afford it? That’s what he is saying. . . . Access doesn’t mean a damn thing!”
“You have access right now. Go out and get a really great health insurance program. All right? Oh, you can’t do it because you can’t afford it? That’s what he is saying. . . . Access doesn’t mean a damn thing!”
While Trump and his allies are busy peddling the false idea that a regulated, affordable health care market is public enemy number one at home, the President has simultaneously been busy making enemies abroad. From Mexico to the Middle East to China, at the State Department and in understaffed U.S. embassies around the globe, the Trump era has begun with the President showing his middle finger to the world.
“We’ve inherited a series of tragic foreign-policy disasters,” Trump declared solemnly in his address to Congress. Those “disasters” include the historic nuclear deal with Iran and the Obama Administration’s supposed failure to denounce “radical Islamic terrorism” and to simply “destroy ISIS” with one big military assault. (Stay tuned for the next Trump revelation: Nobody knew defeating terrorism and making the world safe could be so complicated.)
To help fix things, Trump’s budget sets forth what he described as “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Actually, defense experts say, Trump’s proposed 9.4 percent increase is less than five separate double-digit increases in defense budgets during the 1980s, including a gigantic 25 percent increase in 1981. But never mind the facts.
The United States continues to spend more on the military than any other country in the world. Our military budget is bigger than the combined military spending of the next ten highest-spending countries. Only four other countries have military budgets as large as the $54 billion increase in spending Trump is proposing. (Although some analysts say Trump is exaggerating and his real increase is closer to $18 billion.)
Meanwhile, the Pentagon can’t account for how it spends trillions of dollars, and routinely delivers ineffective and overpriced weapons systems, as Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Military Reform Project, points out. “Unfortunately, it appears the Pentagon is going to get more money and come up with a list of priorities and justifications after the fact,” Smithberger says. The White House can’t even say where, specifically, the new $54 billion in spending it wants to give the Pentagon will go. Watchdogs worry that Congress may put even more money into the Pentagon slush fund for war spending, through the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is not subject to spending caps under the regular budget process.
And while we are arming ourselves to the teeth to combat tennis-shoe bombers and foreign teenagers recruited by propaganda portraying the United States as the enemy of all Islam (with a big assist from Donald Trump), the President and his allies in Congress are aiming to pay for an insane level of militarization by slashing domestic programs that protect clean air and water, fund our schools, and help poor children get needed services including, of course, health care.
None of that is good news for America.
In the creepiest moment of his speech to Congress, Trump lingered over Caryn Owens, the weeping widow of Navy Seal Ryan Owens—the special ops officer who died in a botched raid in Yemen that took place on Trump’s watch. Cable news pundits heaped praise on Trump’s showmanship in exploiting Owens’s widow. But the reality TV triumph could not withstand scrutiny of the facts.
Trump’s use of the bereaved Owens as a prop is even more disturbing when you consider the President’s tacit acknowledgment that her husband died in a poorly executed and ultimately fruitless operation. On Fox & Friends, the Commander-in-Chief shifted the blame onto his generals, saying “They lost Ryan.” Owens’s father, who was outraged by the sacrifice of his son in what he described as a “stupid mission,” refused to shake Trump’s hand.
That rebuke apparently had no effect on the President, who milked the applause and lingered over the obviously distraught widow: “Ryan is looking down right now. You know that,” he told her, as she clenched her hands together, the cameras zooming in on her tears. “And he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record,” Trump declared, implying that Owens would have been proud that his death created the occasion for Trump to bask in the crowd’s adoration.
The man’s sociopathic narcissism knows no bounds.
In Trump’s world, not only are dead U.S. military personnel “happy” because of him, so are immigrants, who will benefit from his new “merit-based” immigration plan. Even as ICE crackdowns were sowing terror in immigrant communities nationwide, Trump announced that his new plan would help immigrant families enter the middle class: “They will do it quickly and they’ll be very, very happy indeed.”
Don’t worry, be happy!
Anyone who is comforted by this kind of rhetoric is not looking closely at the details.
Take Trump’s pledge to bring back American jobs, including his assertion that “dying industries will come roaring back to life.” He got a standing ovation, including from some Democrats, when he declared that he would “make it much, much harder for companies to leave our country.” But that tough talk quickly devolved into promises to sweeten the pot for corporations, who he wrongly claimed pay punitively high taxes in the United States compared with the rest of the world. Making it “hard to leave the country” turns out to mean giving a giant tax cut to corporations here: “It will be a big, big cut,” Trump said.
“Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed,” Trump concluded airily. “Every problem can be solved.And every hurting family can find healing. . . . So why not join forces and finally get the job done?”
Who knew it would all be so easy?