It was the eighth and final time President Barack Obama stood before Congress and the American people to tell us about the state of our nation and the plans he has for this last year. While the President has stayed largely out of the presidential primaries, he didn’t Tuesday night when he took specific shots at Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Here are 11 things that President Obama said tonight that were pretty much a slam on Donald Trump and his fellow GOP cronies:
1. “Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears. We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the ‘dogmas of the quiet past.'”
Donald Trump is well known for taking his rhetoric to a dramatic place. Let’s just say it: he’s a drama queen and he loves to stir up fear and anxiety in voters on the right. After the San Bernardino shooting, Trump made news by saying that it was time we banned all Muslims from coming into the United States, even if they are citizens. Not exactly the most “American” of ideas.
2. “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?”
This was another classy slap at Donald Trump, who campaigns so flawlessly on the politics of fear. Not only did he campaign on banning Muslims, he also called for a federal registry of Muslims, and promised he would “take out” the families of terrorists, whether they have anything to do with the terrorists or not. If that isn’t enough, Trump wants to bring back waterboarding — even if it didn’t work, “they deserve it anyway,” he said.
3. “Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”
When it comes to creating jobs, Trump said, “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” He just doesn’t tell us exactly how or what he would do. Instead, he plays the blame game. He blames immigrants, he blames trade with China and he blames the President.
The truth is that after one of the worst economic disasters, President Obama fought a Congress that wanted to see him fail, to help America prosper. “America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” Obama said Tuesday night. “We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s; an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.”
So what exactly is Trump going to do? Oh, that’s right, increase tariffs on Chinese imports by 25 percent, likely creating a trade war and rearranging the entire global economy.
Then there’s the matter of building that wall that Mexico “will pay for.” Not exactly the most sound economic policy.
4. “Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough.”
If there’s one thing the right-wing, specifically Donald Trump, loves to hate, it’s immigrants. One of the best ways to win an election is to make people afraid and then point at the person to blame that fear on. We’ve seen this movie before, it was the 2004 GOP Convention when 9/11 and terrorism was invoked so many times it scared the country into submission.
“Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did,” Obama dared to say. “Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.”
That should be the statement every single Democratic candidate for office carries with him or her on the campaign trail this election. We should never let the GOP play the blame game on the vulnerable.
5. “If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it… Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”
“Unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change,” Trump told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. Weather? Sea levels are rising because of the weather? Historic droughts over years is weather?
As President Obama said, “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”
6. “I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world…people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead — they call us.”
Republicans have convinced Americans that we’re a nation of wimps if we have a Democratic president. Somehow Democrats are soft on terrorism because they want to try and spare as many American lives as possible and avoid bankrupting our country to randomly attack anyone who says something mean.
There’s nothing Trump wants to do more than jack up military spending. “I’m gonna build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now,” he claimed in his announcement speech. Hey, Donald, how are you going pay for that, buddy? How are you going to get the American people behind another costly, decade-long, war with American ground troops policing the entire Middle East? How’s that going to work out exactly? Again, he has no real plan.
7. “But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.”
Trump wants to build a bigger military, but he’s not alone. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was cheered in the debates for promising to make the United States “the strongest military power in the world,” except, we already are. As President Obama said, we spend as much on our military as the next 8 industrialized countries combined.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, before he dropped out, got a standing ovation for saying that he would further escalate the war on international terrorists: “I want a leader who is willing to take the fight to them before they take the fight to us.” What does that even mean? Does that mean another expensive war with American soldiers dying in the desert? Might check and see how that polls with American voters.
8. “But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands… We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.”
While Trump is known for playing into ISIL’s hands with his anti-Muslim xenophobia, it was actually Chris Christie who said that as President he wouldn’t shy away from shooting down Russian planes and referred to President Obama as “the same feckless weakling that the president we have in the Oval Office is right now.”
“Well, I think if you’re in favor of World War III, you have your candidate,” Senator Rand Paul said in response to the reckless policy.
9. “The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.”
Trump loves his big drama and tough talk. He wants to seem tough and badass so that people won’t look too close at his actual policies that could destroy our country. But it was Ted Cruz in the third GOP debate that seemed to have a problem understanding what exactly “carpet-bombing” was.
BLITZER: To be clear, Senator Cruz, would you carpet bomb Raqqa, where there are a lot of civilians? Yes or no.
CRUZ: You would carpet bomb where ISIS is. The location of the troops. You use air power directed. But the object isn’t to level a city, the object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.
Carpet-bombing isn’t targeted. Just like a “carpet,” it covers a whole area not just little parts of it. Amateur.
10. “That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong…
“His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’ When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.”
Make you afraid of it, and tell you who’s to blame for it: that is the Donald Trump way. President Obama is right, that shouldn’t be what our country stands for. We’re better than that. At least, he sure hopes we are.
11. “As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.”
That might as well be Trump’s campaign slogan. Blame the Mexicans. Blame Islam and ban all Muslims. Blame Obama. Find someone to point the finger at and scare the rest. One would have hoped after what we did to the Native Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, LGBT Americans and others that Republicans could find a way to evolve and stop blaming all of their problems on others.
Here’s to a good final year of the Obama presidency. While there have been some disagreements from those of us on the left, it takes a special kinda hero to not only volunteer to hold your finger in the hole for 8 years so the flood doesn’t come in, but work to repair it too. I’ve been fighting the high waters for too long and I’ve grown tired and cynical. It felt as if President Obama was speaking directly to me when he told those of us who believed in him 8 years ago not to lose hope. “It’s easier to be cynical,” he said. “To accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter. But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.” Thank you, for that, Mr. President.