Trump Exploited Emotions but this isn’t an Era of American Greatness
Trump gave a one hour speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday focussing on foreign policy and security. He promised immigration control, repealing and replacing Obamacare, fighting Isis and creating jobs. Not only did he claim inaccurate facts and avoided details, but he also made the most controversial of announcements, promising the creation of a “Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement” office amidst Democrats’ gasps.
For many commentators, this was a much more optimistic speech compared to the dark themes of American “carnage” of his inaugural address. He talked about finding “common ground”, but this sounded paradoxical, especially coming from someone who has been relentlessly attacking the media on Twitter. Reading from a teleprompter, he said: “I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart.”
Among the stone-faced Democrats and Democratic women dressed in white—stressing inequality and honouring the suffragettes—Trump’s Republican side met his announcements with cheers and applause. When the president bragged about how he “drained the swamp” of government corruption, the Democrats laughed contemptuously at Trump’s cabinet sitting in the audience: they were the same Wall Street corrupt elites he was blaming for his neglected “people.”
“A new chapter of American Greatness is now beginning”
He began by asserting that America is a nation “condemning hate and evil in all its forms”, something that was received as a sign of Trump’s milder stance towards foreigners.
The talk was characterised by its populism—the good ordinary people, on the one hand, and the bad corrupt elites, on the other hand. But the problem is that this reference to all as “the people” can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean and can legitimate agendas which might end up being harmful to this group of people. In this respect, Trump’s project and speech are also moralising—it’s not about rich and poor, equality or inequality, but a separation of the world into good and bad. Trump and Theresa May are very similar because they always address these good hardworking people who have been exploited by the establishment for a long time and whose voices can no longer be neglected. But these real people that Trump refers to are only those who are on his side, not the ones who might disagree with him. And, as a messiah, only Trump himself can solve the American people’s problems: “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved.’’
Walls and anti-immigration policies
In his speech, he reminded his audience of all the good things his administration is planning, especially, his fantastic US-Mexico wall which brings together two of his big promises: anti-immigration policies and the creation of more jobs. But, by negatively and dangerously associating unemployment to immigration, he is spreading hatred instead of optimism for the future. There is nothing more divisive than separating people between “us and them” and blaming one group for the misfortunes of the other group.
Trump said: “my Administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed –- but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.
For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.”
In addition, “radical Islamic terrorism” was also associated with uncontrolled immigration and he defended again his travel ban—a new version will be available on Wednesday (1 March). He said: “It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur ... We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America – we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”
So, if this is the new chapter of American greatness, then many of us will need to redefine language because Trump is changing the meaning of fundamental principles.
Trump claimed that many companies announced that they will be investing “billions and billions of dollars” in the US and create thousands of new jobs, but a Bloomberg analysis showed that many of these decisions were made before Trump’s presidency and many didn’t create any jobs at all.
Another suspicious claim had to do with corporate tax. He claimed that: “Right now, American companies are taxed at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.” But, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US is not in the top 30 highest-taxed nations in the world. He continued: “My economic team is developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone. It will be a big, big cut. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.”
But Tax Foundation has demonstrated that Trump’s tax cuts will go to the top 1% of earners, whereas families below the top 20% of earners will have income gains below 1%.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, said that “The speech and the reality have never been more detached in a presidential speech.”
Obamacare: thumbs down
Trump attacked Obamacare amidst cheers from Republicans and called for unity in a denigrating manner: “I am calling on all Democrats and Republicans in the Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster.” Two Democrats gave a thumbs down sign.
Voice – Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement
Democrats grunted and showed their disapproval when Trump said he would be creating an office for American victims. He then proceeded to introduce Jamiel Shaw, Susan Oliver, Jenna Oliver, and Jessica Davis, “brave Americans whose government failed them.” Their family members were murdered by “illegal immigrants” and they were Trump’s witnesses to his cause.
In an emotional moment, Trump turned his attention to Carryn Owens, the widow of a US Navy Seal Ryan Owens who got killed in a raid in Yemen. Obama was against the raid, which he thought to be unnecessary, while there are suspicions that Trump or generals had demanded it. Fox News broadcast an interview with Trump in which he said that “This is a mission that was started before I got here, this is something that was, they [my generals] wanted to do. And they lost Ryan.” According to the Guardian, Trump approved the raid himself. Among those killed in the operation was an eight-year-old girl and an unspecified number of civilian non-combatants, including children.
In his speech, Trump claimed: “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.” But this is now questionable. The NBC said that the raid didn’t generate any intelligence, and CBS suggested that one of the possible objectives could have been to kill or capture al-Qaida fighters.
While his wife attended the speech, Ryan’s father, William Owens declined to meet the president and said to the Miami Herald that the government owed his son an investigation, questioning the reasons behind the raid. He said: “Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior there were no boots on the ground in Yemen – everything was missiles and drones – because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display.’’
It's my party
The speech was a sad display for unity, but behind notions of optimism and calls for a common ground, there were no major legislations or concrete plans. At points, the cynical parading of people’s stories felt like a staged fiasco, whereas behind there were more truths and facts to uncover. There will be more stories of everyday people that Trump will continue to omit as he’s re-writing his-story.
The unequal focus on American lives lost, as opposed to the many lives of others killed by Americans abroad, was another gaping wound at the heart of Trump’s politics. His broad-brush strokes and insistence on a politics of fear were still there, in every comma and dramatic pause of his speech. The problem is, this is Trump’s party and the rest of us can be invited or disinvited at will.