“He was a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. Like rotten mackerel by moonlight, he shines and stinks.” —John Randolph
Since this all began more than a year ago, it has been my sworn duty as a citizen of this country and member of the human race to remind people of one core fact as often as possible: None of this is normal.
All the pomp and circumstance of every other State of the Union address was present last night — the introductions, the stage-managed applause, the honored guests — and this: Donald Trump giving the crowd his profile like Nero, sneering and gesticulating at the Democrats, clapping and clapping and clapping into his own microphone to keep the applause lines going like some starving seal in a two-bit circus. Standing under the lights last night, he looked like a new penny at the bottom of a truck stop toilet bowl, all copper sheen and the stink of ammonia.
There were a hundred moments I could point to yesterday evening to underscore the “Not Normal” qualities of Trump’s first SOTU speech, but one stands out in gruesome relief. He pointed out four guests in the gallery — Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens, parents of two teenage girls brutally murdered by the MS-13 gang — and proceeded to grind their demonstrable agony under his heel for all to see.
Why? Because it was Trump’s intention to conflate the vast majority of immigrants in this country, particularly those who are undocumented, with vicious killers in the mind of his audience. He even managed to dismiss the Dreamers, who were protected by DACA until he stripped them bare, by claiming that “Americans are dreamers, too,” as if these young people were somehow stealing from the rest of us. White House adviser and famous fascist Stephen Miller was in charge of the crafting of this speech, and his truncheon hand was all too visible in this passage.
I am not alone in my assessment of that moment. “Most revolting of all, though,” writes Kevin Baker in the New York Times, “was the moment when Mr. Trump sank to using the weeping parents of two murdered teenage girls on Long Island to associate the MS-13 gang first with the tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors who seek refuge in the United States every year from the violence in their home countries and then by implication with Latino immigrants and even the Dreamers. His turning on the Dreamers like this even as he supposedly advocated for them was a blood libel beyond anything I have heard from an American president.”
White House adviser and famous fascist Stephen Miller was in charge of the crafting of this speech, and his truncheon hand was all too visible.
Beneath the treacly bromides and tread-worn rallying cries, however, lurked an overarching strategy of sorts. In the days leading up to the speech, the newspapers were filled with speculation on how Trump’s far-right white nationalist fascist base would react to a speech that was anything other than Hitler in Munich circa 1920.
While the white nationalists got their fair share of red meat last night, Mr. Miller appears to have opted for a different and potentially effective tactic: Aim, above all, for the people who vote with their wallets and bank accounts. Trump did this by exaggerating — and sometimes brazenly lying — about the state of the US economy, and the goal of the effort was plain.
Trump has his base locked down tight, but that’s all he has. By appealing to the “I got mine, screw you” instinct of voters, he is hoping to broaden his support with a truly venal arrangement: I’ll deport millions of people, plunder the Treasury for my wealthy friends, ravage the environment, humiliate the nation and drag us to the brink of nuclear obliteration, but I won’t hurt your bank account. Don’t laugh: Ronald Reagan rode a similarly crass ethos into two terms, managing in that time to do damage we’re still digging out from.
Trump is hoping to broaden his support with a truly venal arrangement: I’ll deport millions of people, plunder the Treasury for my wealthy friends, and drag us to the brink of nuclear obliteration, but I won’t hurt your bank account.
Nary a word was spoken about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation, leaving one to ponder the metaphysical question of what lives in the silence between the words. Richard Nixon brought up the Watergate inquiry during the 1974 State of the Union speech, his last as it turned out. I suppose the venue wasn’t appropriate. How do you tell a thousand people and a televised audience your next bigly idea is to have Jeff Sessions investigate Mueller, so Mueller can no longer investigate you? Had Trump dropped that brick, Lindsey Graham would need a fainting couch permanently stapled to his back.
Last night, all the common components were there: the fan of seats filled with swells, balconies bustling, TV anchorpeople jockeying to win this year’s Van Jones Overgush Award by being the first to say “Trump became the president tonight” … except for the man in the middle. Like some blighted prism, he threw all the lights askew and turned a well-worn event into a genuinely distressing spectacle.
None of this is normal, goddamn it. Say it again.