The world’s most famous liar took two hours of my time last night, and I barely laughed.
I endured Trump’s State of the Union. Originally, I had a different evening planned. My friend B and I were going to watch Phantom Thread. Then B remembered the Orangeman was going to deliver Stephen Miller’s new commandments that very night. He convinced me to hate-watch the State of the Union instead: “Rhode, it’s going to be incredible.” Trump would go off the rails at some point. The Grammys had dissed him. He couldn’t help himself.
The more I thought about it, the more attractive it seemed. Whatever the oaf-in-chief said, however he said it, this was the first Trump State of the Union. The transcript was sure to occupy an uncomfortable page in some future poli-sci textbook. Would the State of the Union be an evening of senile bragging punctuated by Candice Bergen anecdotes? With a braying ass on the stage, anything was possible. Perhaps, at long last, the Congress would be eaten by a wild Virginia dog pack. But Trump was guaranteed to be the main attraction.
B and I talked it over, like a pair of bond traders considering the easiest path to hell. We both agreed that seeing America’s chemically-unbalanced uncle possibly stroke out on live LCD feed was superior to Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance. The movie could wait.
So we spent Tuesday evening watching the speech. And I was surprised. There was barely any cursing. The President didn’t purr about his daughter’s appearance—not once. But that’s the really bizarre thing about Trump: no matter how much he disgusts you, there’s always a lower basement. I went in expecting Trump the dullard, and I got Trump the racist, nuclear-war craving, torture-porn aficionado instead.
The President was so blatant in his bigotry and stupidity, that he was almost interesting to watch. Almost. His State of the Union was the ass-covering to end all ass-coverings, a hard tack right to rescue his deeply unpopular regime. There was something for every part of the reptilian brain. At no point in his speech did he pretend to be the champion of diverse, decent America. Even his pandering moments, when he leaned on the good deeds of ordinary citizens, felt strange. They had a deep awkwardness to them, like a rich leper whispering comments about someone else’s smooth skin.
Trump is a master liar. He was in peak form Tuesday. He lied over and over again. He lied about Obama setting the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi free in 2009. Never happened. He lied about his party. He lied about his administration, and lied about his lies. He lied about economic facts. His claim about energy exporting is flat wrong, under any definition. His tax cuts weren’t the biggest in U.S. history. The low point for Hispanic employment was in 2006-2007. Most of the jobs created during the last two years are McJobs—part-time service jobs with poor pay and no benefits. Most of all, Trump lied about immigrants. He lied about “chain migration.” He lied about the danger they posed. He lied about loopholes. How did Simon and Garfunkel put it? Lie lie lie (various explosions), lie lie lie lie lie lie lie.
Not only has Trump mastered the skill of mendacity, he is a tremendous, beautiful pioneer in the art of hypocrisy. He sang the praises of Puerto Rico just hours before his FEMA abandoned Puerto Rico. He promised the working poor cheaper medications, and in the same speech bragged about cutting Obamacare. He condemned the torture of a North Korean prisoner as he promised to keep his own private torture prison open in Cuba. Trump pledged to fund vocational schools, but didn’t say a word about community colleges, or student debt. He promised infrastructure repair, but wouldn’t tell the audience about private enterprise’s plans to charge tolls on public works. He opined about the opioid crisis, but blamed drug dealers instead of Big Pharma.
In between his promises of racial profiling, perpetual war, foreign aid cuts, nuclear holocaust, and torture camps, Trump dropped the names of ordinary Americans. They were his shields, you see. Forget that these people are disposable to Trump, or that he won’t remember their names the moment they’re out of his line of sight. Forget that among genuinely heroic folk, he included a goon from ICE, the lowest form of human life.
I was curious about his guests. There were so many people missing! Since the President has such an obvious concern for human suffering, this was puzzling to me.
For instance, what about the family of Heather Heyer, who got run down by one of Trump’s “very fine people” in Charlottesville last year? What about the family of Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba? He killed himself after Trump’s ICE took him into custody. He was 32, from Nicaragua. Died last March in a private prison in California, hanging in his cell. Nine people died in ICE custody during the 2017 fiscal year. There are a lot of seats in the House. Surely we can accommodate their families.
Where was the family of Srinivas Kuchibhotla? He was killed in a Kansas Bar in February 2017, a month after Trump’s immigrant-bashing campaign. The killer was said to have shouted “go back to your country.” Maybe that escaped the President’s notice? Which is odd, given how quick Trump was to tweet about the Champs-Elysees shooting in April 2017, two months later. What about the stabbing death of Richard W. Collins III, an Army second lieutenant? I didn’t see any of his friends in the audience. According to the Times, certain evidence suggested that Collins’ stabber belonged to a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” Hey, Donny, how’d you miss that one?
The Hill reported that ten thousand people would die annually from the GOP tax cut of Obamacare. Why didn’t our Glorious Leader put any of those families in the balcony? Weren’t their lives just as precious to him? Trump shamelessly exploited the grief of the two Long Island families, but he couldn’t even get the basic facts of his exploitation right.
As the Washington Post noted in October, MS-13 was started by refugees from Central American wars—-wars that were themselves profoundly affected by American intervention. The Clinton administration then tried to get rid of the gang by deporting suspected members back to unstable Central American countries. But the more members the U.S. deported, the more the gang thrived, becoming a danger both in America and abroad. In 2012, the U.S. declared MS-13 to be a “transnational criminal organization,” marking the first time a U.S. street gang was labeled that way. So if Trump wants to really pin the blame on anyone for MS-13, he can pin it on the American government.
But these are facts, and what do facts matter? Immigration is wingnut Narnia. It’s a fantasy land for the far right, where every dumpy right-wing anxiety about people of color can be projected. On Tuesday night, Trump played a Wurlitzer organ made of dog whistles.
I have a serious question: instead of speaking all those words, why didn’t Trump just burn a cross and bring out a waterboard? It would have saved me two hours of boredom. Indeed, it would have gotten his essential message across a lot clearer. The exact same people would have applauded. The same rows of middle-aged car dealers would have chanted “USA.”
And Trump would have been spared another public humiliation. For that is what this speech was. I have never seen a wannabe-champion of the master race so obviously needy. It was like watching a broken-legged mare foal in public. As the intolerable minutes ticked on, the President’s insecurity floated to the surface. Trump’s eyes darted to the Democratic side of the chamber, where the applause was so conspicuously absent. He began to make gestures, as if begging them to stand and praise him. Seldom had a president been so publicly rebuked, and seldom, if ever, has a President psychologically craved approval more. The alt-right has a problem. How is Trump going to fight for Stephen Miller’s precious Caucasian future if he’s so thirsty for the Congressional Black Caucus to applaud him?
The President got his life’s ambition last night—two dreary hours when nobody else could steal his attention. A moment when nobody else could speak, a dinner party none of us could leave. And what did he show? A wealthy Confederate fugue dream interrupted by guest stars. My fellow Americans, the state of this union is wrong.