Among other things, the speech was laced with nonfactual statements, but even that was a reminder of the path we’ve traveled over the past year and where we are. That showed in a lot of faces that seemed strained.
You could actually get a good sense of where we are as a nation from the State of the Union address Tuesday evening, sometimes through the words of the speech, but in other ways, too.
There were lots of reminders. The female members of Congress wearing black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement were a reminder of the curtain being drawn back on sexual harassment and abuse.
And there at the podium was Donald Trump, a man accused by several women of sexual misconduct, who regularly displays disregard for women in his words and actions.
It says something that he could be elected president. And in his account of the state of the union, he passed over a national reckoning with the status of women in general and the outing of sexual misdeeds.
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Trumps’ wife, Melania, attended the speech, which wasn’t a given because she’d been out of the public eye since news outlets broadcast stories that he may have paid a porn actress to stay silent about an affair with him. But Melania was there and wearing all white. She didn’t look happy. I don’t know what was on her mind, but I’m pretty sure she was not rejoicing.
I saw a lot of faces that seemed strained.
Presidents always invite guests to attend the speeches and help make some point or another. Corey Adams is a welder whose employer gave him a raise, using some of the money the company will save because of the recent tax cuts Trump signed into law. Sometimes presidents spotlight people they empathize with, which makes the ritual feel less like exploitation without representation.
Adams’ bosses, sitting next to him, looked delighted, but he mostly looked grim until finally forcing a brief grimace of a smile.
The whole thing spoke to how tilted Trump’s policies and the tax cut itself are — favoring individuals and businesses at the top over the workers he talks about in his speeches. Later, Trump saluted a 12-year-old boy who started a movement to place flags on veterans’ graves on Veterans Day. Trump said the boy’s “reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
For Trump, that was subtle, but not difficult to interpret. He spent a lot of time and energy last year disparaging black athletes who tried to bring attention to racial injustice by kneeling during the playing of the anthem.
The protests have nothing to do with the military. But Trump’s tweeting about them do amplify his support among white nationalists who appreciate his positions on matters of race.
He gave them more to applaud when he used two families to emphasize his view of immigrants from south of the border. The parents of two teenage girls who police said were killed in 2016 by members of the MS-13 street gang wept as Trump spoke about the killings. And their pain was the base on which he stood to call for Congress to tighten immigration laws and increase policing of the border with Mexico. And that, too, says something about the state of our union that ought to make us uncomfortable.
Trump looks south and all he sees are criminals and other undesirable people. But the facts are that most people cross the border looking to make a better life for themselves and their children by working like everyone else. He uses criminals to define an entire group of people. The facts are irrelevant because what he really wants is a different kind of America, full of people who look like they might have come from Norway.
The speech was laced with nonfactual statements, but even that was a reminder of the path we’ve traveled over the past year and where we are now. Presidents always shape reality to their liking in these speeches, but Donald Trump is over the top in his blatant disregard for facts.
Trump crowed about “ending the war on beautiful, clean coal.” He talked about increasing preparedness for actual war by raising military spending and adding to the nation’s nuclear capability. The military chiefs seemed uncomfortable.
“Americans are dreamers, too,” Trump said at one point.
If we are dreaming, now would be a good time to wake up.