Following last night’s address to Congress and the American people, most media headlines (FAKE NEWS???) are claiming that with this speech Trump has found a voice that finally made him “The President” and that Americans are now buoyed by his vision and upbeat about his plans.
Let me state clearly here and now: I have no interest in Trump or the GOP failing to deliver the good things they are promising to deliver, things like better healthcare, improved infrastructure, reduced crime and better jobs and education. (OK, I DO have a lot of problems with their subtle and not so subtle actions that are stripping people of hard won human rights, their courting of racism and xenophobia, and their general dismissal of the real struggles of minorities, among other things.)
The problem for me isn’t in their claim to want those good things, but instead in what they are actually doing. Words do matter, but actions matter more.
And I hardly think it’s worth celebrating the fact that for one moment Trump managed to set aside his usual pettiness or deflections and actually act and sound like we expect a leader to act and sound. We might praise a toddler when he remembers not to hit his sibling out of frustration, but we know he’ll do it again because he is a toddler. In many ways, I’m feeling the same about Trump and this speech last night. He did a good job-LIKE HE SHOULD-but he’s chomping at the bit to get back on Twitter. And I’m not alone. Other media outlets (FAKE NEWS???) are expressing the same restraint:
If you didn’t watch or listen to the speech last night, you can still read the words. You miss the tone and the inflections, but in some ways that’s better. You can examine the words themselves, and have something to use as a yardstick to measure what he will actually do.
While full of lofty goals, Trump’s words don’t match the reality of his actions in his 40 or so days in office. Nor do they line up with what the McConnell-Ryan GOP playbook is pushing for. Instead, the populist rhetoric reinforced the dark vision Trump has of America today with softer words, a vision only lightly supported by reality and heavily supported by anecdotes and GOP groupthink.
America is already experiencing economic strength, but the GOP desire to slash business and wealthy tax rates while gutting social safety net programs AND promising to rebuild national infrastructure AND increase military spending doesn’t add up. Even gutting agencies like the EPA, Dept. of Education, the FDA and slashing funding to programs like the NEA and other more altruistic endeavors that government supports won’t make the numbers add up. We’ve tried trickle down economics before and they don’t help the middle class or the poor. The GOP knows this, they just don’t care.
Trump’s speech touched on education (but not how to make it better, or improve American investment in science or STEM knowledge to prepare for the future), it spoke to job creation (without accepting the reality of a more mechanized industrial environment and the disruption that will bring), it ignored the truth of a new era in energy (by investing in the dying fossil fuel industry), and dismissed the reality of environmental destruction or how to address it. In all those things and more he was off target and out of synch with reality.
Trump still demonized immigrants in this speech, making the stretch that all that is wrong in America- from crime to low wages to bankrupt state coffers- are the result of evil bands of immigrants coming to America to wreak havoc and steal our resources. It’s not true, despite the high profile cases put forth in the press. Yes, there are criminals in our country. Some are immigrants, but most are homegrown Americans.
Trump weaved a tale of an America being screwed over by the world at large- from unfair import/export rules, unequal defense responsibilities and costs, misplaced immigration priorities, outsized foreign aid and investment- and there are kernels of truth in all of those claims. What he neglects to remind us is that America created those rules and developed that playing field to our own advantage, and while they have left the United States carrying a heavier share of the load they’ve also ushered in the longest era of peace and prosperity for all people of the world. Can we make adjustments? Of course, but to do so with sweeping unilateral reforms is neither wise nor responsible.
In so many things Trump’s speech inspires us to greatness without offering a path there. It creates good feelings while glossing over the real problems we still face to actually have harmony. It pretends concern while advancing discordant policies that diminish the plight of the poor and middle classes in favor of the rich, the corporate, the white evangelical world view.
Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America. He may have finally found a moment to sound presidential. But it’s actions, not words, that make a leader. It’s actions that I’m watching and judging him by. As should you. As should we all.
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