People For the American Way

Trump’s “More Presidential” Speech to Congress is Just Hate, Rebranded

News and Analysis
Trump’s “More Presidential” Speech to Congress is Just Hate, Rebranded
US President Donald J. Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, USA, 28 February 2017. / AFP / POOL / JIM LO SCALZO (Photo credit should read JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s be clear. With Donald Trump’s speech last night being heralded by some in the media for striking a “softer tone” and sounding “more presidential” than Trump’s previous overtly hateful, ego romp, lie filled speeches, the threat from Trump and his Republican allies just became more dangerous, not less.

There was no “pivot.” What we saw was the same hate, the same bigotry, the same extremism, and the same insidious distortions of reality … but in a shiny new package now loaded onto a tele-prompter, couched in the kind of Orwellian doublespeak and slick marketing that could give Trump and Republicans a boost in popularity, despite their having the exact same agenda. Nothing has changed. But they’re learning to hide it better.

It will be up to all of us to expose the truth and protect vulnerable Americans, our values, and our Constitution from a more sinister approach by the Trump administration in enacting its dark and radical vision for our country.

Something that is not getting nearly enough attention in the reporting so far of Trump’s speech is that the president leaned heavily into his fearmongering about crime committed by immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are responsible for no more violent crime than any other members of the population at large, but that’s clearly not the impression given by Trump’s cherry-picked examples and sad personal stories that represent the exception, not the rule.

Trump’s announcement of a new program to collect and elevate the stories of people who have been victims of crime specifically by immigrants is a dark and divisive platform to sow suspicion and stoke fear of a particular threat that does not exist. He has created “the other” that he is trying to get the country to fear. It got him an electoral vote majority and he’s going to use to try and pass a hateful agenda. It’s not unlike Trump’s promotion of a wild conspiracy theory about millions of “illegal” voters in 2016 in an attempt to create fertile ground for voter suppression policies to keep Democrats from ever coming back into power.

One of the biggest hypocrisies was Trump accusing others of creating division while flagrantly promoting a pernicious distrust of all noncitizens, and whitewashing the fact that the current partisan divisions in Washington – which he alluded to several times while gesturing towards the Democratic side of the chamber – were created by Republicans with their extremism and refusal to do their job during the Obama years … perhaps most notably with Senate Republicans’ anti-constitutional blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Of course, Trump called for the swift confirmation of his own Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, noting that Gorsuch had come from his list of potential picks released during the campaign. That list, however, was compiled by right-wing groups and filled with unacceptable extremists, of which Gorsuch is one of the most extreme.

Trump was still in full campaign mode – he used grieving families as political props, and made big, vague promises with no details about how to achieve (or afford) them. And he pandered to the demographic base of working class whites that, outside of the Republican Party faithful, forms the core of his support, with anecdotes about brands (like Harley Davidson) and kind words and promises for the police and military. Trump even emphasized education as “the civil rights issue of our time” and yet he stripped transgender students of protections given to them under the Obama administration. Further, his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, claimed that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were the “real pioneers when it comes to school choice” despite their being founded to combat segregation, and he supports vouchers which would divert federal funding to private schools which are allowed to discriminate, fundamentally making education even less equal.

With his administration void of actual accomplishments, he resorted to claiming some of the accomplishments of his predecessor as his own. Trump likes to say he inherited a mess, but he inherited an economy that had been picking up steam for years after the debacle created by the previous Republican administration and despite congressional Republicans’ best efforts at economic sabotage all throughout the Obama presidency. Astonishingly, Trump even subtly tried to highjack ownership of the most popular ideas in the Affordable Care Act.

Finally, while Trump mostly stuck to the teleprompter and avoided repeating some of his most outrageous whoppers, the level of dishonesty was still shocking by any normal standards. In addition to the selective use of misleading stats and examples about immigrants, crime, and terrorism, Trump cast all regulations and standards set by the government to protect consumers, workers, and the public as government overreach that takes away Americans’ choices and even their rights. A dangerous and corrosive message to sell a dangerous and corrosive agenda.

We have our work cut out for us. It may be a difficult road ahead as Trump forges ahead with his regressive agenda and as we see politicians and the media normalizing his rhetoric when it’s packaged like his speech last night – less rambling, but the same amount of toxicity and hatred. We need to keep building the Resistance movement and fighting Trump every step of the way.