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Trump’s State of the Union address put his full wannabe-dictator form on display

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- Commentary
David Cay Johnston
David Cay Johnston

In the 2019 State of the Union address, Donald Trump revealed yet again that his administration is based on reality television practices, not the faithful execution of duties assigned by our Congress.

This article first appeared at DCreport.org.

His speech was also bad with numbers—very bad, especially for anyone concerned about winning the war on cancer.

That said, to those who believe that Trump is their self-proclaimed economic and white-skin-privilege savior, a demi-god rather than a demagogue, this was a powerful speech, rich with dog whistles to those who favor authoritarianism over the messy business of democratic self-governance.

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The text was written largely by Stephen Miller, a white supremacist Trump adviser. Interestingly, you won’t find the text of the speech at WhiteHouse.gov, at least not the morning after, only the video.

Trump began behaving in his wannabe-dictator style and with the social graces of a modern Philistine. He was late.

Trump was there as a guest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opened the House chamber doors to him only after she marshaled the political power to force him to reopen the government. Pelosi could have just told Trump to write a letter, as many presidents have done, instead of giving him the platform he wanted so badly that he caved on his shutdown.

In polite or merely civil society the host introduces guests both in private gatherings and State of the Union speeches. But while Trump tepidly took her hand, he did not wait for Pelosi to introduce her guest before launching into a speech whose main goal was to call for everyone to do as Trump says.

His rude action was from the same vein as when he shoved Duško Marković, the prime minister of tiny Montenegro, out of the way at a May 2017 NATO meeting so the news cameras would focus on Trump.

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Marković, like all people who understand a bully they cannot defeat, meekly said later that he did not mind. That’s how it goes now that America has the third-generation head of a white-collar crime family in the White House. And that fearful reaction was also on display as Republican lawmakers praised Trump the way in and out even though much of what he had to say is a contradiction of Republican party platforms, principles being too strong a word for these views given their current convertibility into ideological mush.

Trump called for everyone to get behind whatever he wants, regardless of their differences. In doing so he revealed that he slept through history classes from grammar school through college.

As part of his call for everyone to get behind what Trump wants and ignore their differences he declared “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”

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Actually, that is exactly the way it has always worked, even when our union was rent asunder by civil war.

Just before the inevitable entry of America into World War II, which military planners expected would last well into the 1950s with no certain defeat of Berlin and Tokyo, debate on the policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt ran at full throttle.

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And who led the investigations into the FDR administration’s military preparedness and then prosecution of the war? That was a member of Roosevelt’s own party, Missouri Democrat Harry S. Truman who became FDR’s 1944 running mate. Contrast that with the craven refusal to investigate by Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and the rest of the Republican leadership to oversee the Trump administration during the just-finished 115th Congress.

Much of the speech was closer to reality television than reality.

Trump called for national unity, not to defeat actual threats to America such as the Putin regime, but against invading women and children fleeing the brutal streets of Guatemala and Honduras, where violence traces back to decades of American foreign-policy mistakes including the endless war on drugs.

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Seeking to rebut Pelosi’s description of the Mexico border wall as immoral, Trump said: “This is a moral issue.”

To prove this, he introduced some guests who deserve our sympathy having lost a loved one to violence from a criminal illegally in the United States.

But anecdotes are not a sound basis for policy, especially when both data and logic tell us that most of the people who live in the United States without official permission try to avoid any activity that would bring them into contact with police. The data show they are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born. Smart reform of our immigration laws would do more to deal with the crimes that Trump exploits to advance his desires than the wall with Mexico that is never going to be built.

Trump then plunged right into promoting class divisions in a way that revealed his shallow thinking and inability to speak without making stuff up.

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“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” Trump declared.

There are no signs that Americans are about to turn to pitchforks and knives to address their grievances, but if they ever do it is likely that plutocrats, or in the case of Trump people who claim to have great wealth, will be the ones who get the points from the mob.

There is, of course, no national politician calling for open borders. Rather the call is for comprehensive immigration reform that avoids making America a pariah among the nations of Earth, which is what Trumpian walls and Muslim country travel bans foster.

Trump did try to make himself a champion in the war on cancer. He introduced a 10-year-old cancer survivor and then pledged to propose in his next budget $500 million of funding over 10 years.

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That’s just $50 million annually, which is less than 1% of the money spent by our government currently on cancer research. Given that inflation is running north of 2% annually, this vague pledge could be reasonably seen as a plan to cut cancer research funding. It certainly is when examined as a share of the economy, which Trump insisted is growing because of an “economic miracle.”

Of course, we should not forget that Trump’s first budget proposed massive cuts in cancer research funding, as even the rightwing Washington Examiner reported.

What we saw in SOTU 2019 was not the faithful execution of the laws that Congress passes, but a star from the faux reality of “Celebrity Apprentice” dividing America because he has no idea how to govern so he must cling like a barnacle to his political base.

 


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