Since much of Donald Trump's speech to the Congressional Joint last night consisted of his own hands, Mussolini-like, clapping for himself, and his frequent pauses to look around and see who was applauding him, the reviews saying this was one of the longest harangues of its type are misleading.
Before I get into the rancid meat of the speech, let's get the fashion sidebar out of the way first. Paul Ryan wore a suitably lighter shade of blue tie than Trump's, although he did botch his own opening line: "I preven-- present the president of the United States!"
First Lady Melania chose the Hillary Clinton nominating convention look: a blinding white pantsuit. There are already plenty of articles on the possible cultural symbolism and hidden meanings of this choice of couture, so I won't bother. As I previously reported, the Democratic ladies borrowed their style from the Golden Globe ladies, and wore funereal black. Nobody shouted "Shut up!" or otherwise disrupted the spectacle - which is, after all, the political equivalent of Hollywood's own multi-part orgy of theatrical self-congratulation. There were one or two nonverbal outbursts that sounded like projectile vomiting, which I swear came from my TV and not from me or my pet goldfish.
Now, to the speech. If I were asked to give it a title, it'd be a toss-up between "It's Always Sunny When You Got Somebody To Hate" or "It'll Take a Trillion-Dollar Military Industrial Complex To Crush One Little Latino Gang From Long Guyland."
No way, as the New York Times cheerfully posited in its usual insane deference to the "occasion" of the S.O.T.U. if not the man, was this an appeal for "unity," unless a more cohesive jelly mold of fear and hatred was what Trump had in mind. When read rather than listened to, in fact, it sounds like many bullshitting presidential victory laps of hope which came before it.
Here's my interpretation (his actual words are in italicized quotes.)
America is a lot like Dante's trilogy, folks. There's both a heaven and a hell and maybe a purgatory, but I've never really been one for centrism, so I'll keep maniacally spinning from hell to heaven and back again throughout this diatribe. If there is anything I'm a master at, it's keeping people so seriously off-balance they won't know what's really hitting them until it's way too late.
Ordinary people look out for ordinary people. Because America is a bootstrapping nation which hasn't had a safety net for so long there's no need to even talk about it in this speech.
So, thank you, Mr. Helicopter Rescuer in the audience, for being a human prop next to the White Pantsuit Supermodel, so we don't have to talk about how the government has turned its back on the people of Puerto Rico and "the Harvey."
Thank you, too, Mr. Firefighter dude for rescuing 60 people from the Inferno in California. It only goes to prove that just because you're trapped in a raging fire you don't necessary die from it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mr. Congresscritter Steve Scalise, who proved that just because you get shot along with many other people every single day in America, you can come out of your own trial by fire looking just fantastic, 10 years younger in fact, all because of our great health care system. (Scalise jumps to his feet to prove it and he even blows a two-handed macho Hollywood-style kiss to the president. Because gun ownership for anybody and everybody is what America is truly all about. This happy-ending shooting proved we are one great big happy country-family.
"If there is an opportunity, we seize it." Because predation and greed are what we're all about.
Even though wages are stagnating, I'll do like all my predecessors did and insist they're rising. Plus, since I can't get Jay-Z calling me a germ out of my head, I'll dig in a little deeper and claim that black people have never had it better. Also Wall Street is booming, which is great for the pension accounts it's appropriated until the bubble bursts and somebody who is not a billionaire loses their shirt, their house, and maybe even an eye.
So anyway, here's a shout-out to Steve and Sandy, who own a small factory in Ohio. Also to their black employee, an all-American welder who is a great welder because his bosses told me he was. You think I personally have the time to look at his welding? So that's another racist dog-whistle completed, sending the message that black people are either uppity Jay-Zs, or not hard-working enough to score a seat next to the White Pantsuit Goddess. How can I be a racist when I highlight a black guy on my special night?
"If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything." This is a subtle dig at the 800,000 Dreamers, in the vein of critics who counter the Black Lives Matter Movement with "all lives matter." Trump hammers down on this "dream" theme several more times during his speech.
"In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is 'in God we trust.'” (At this point the camera pans to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is caught applauding this line as robotically as any spellbound person who has ever been positively conditioned throughout life to loaded buzzwords and thus avoid thinking of how this country has always used the tropes of God and family to inflict a whole lot of Infernos both here and abroad.)
"And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support." If you question endless war for profit, or complain about police brutality, you're not a real (white) American.
On that Orwellian note, here's another shout-out to a human prop. Young 12-year-old Preston up there, sitting right next to the White Pantsuit Goddess, started a movement to plant 40,000 flags on the graves of soldiers. Because unlike flowers, flags never die. "Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us 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." Naturally, this was a dig at the mainly black athletes who have taken a knee in protest of racism at football games. Nothing like using a nice little kid as your racist cudgel, eh, Trumpolini?
Now it's on to the appointment of conservative judges who will allow people to keeping buying more guns because the Second Amendment rules. A quick pan to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch doesn't elicit any emotion whatsoever.
"All Americans deserve accountability and respect – and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers – and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people."
Naturally, as the Underminer-in-Chief, this new rule would not apply to Donald J. Trump. But it'd be nice to see Congress take him at his word, just for fun.
Now it's on to the manufacture of more gas-guzzling, fuel-inefficient cars to keep the wheels of Capitalism grinding on until the whole planet erupts into one Dante's Inferno after another.
But before that happens, Trump wants terminal cancer patients to stop schlepping from country to country in search of a quack cure when they should easily have "access" to untested therapies right here in the Homeland.
Also, Trump has directed his new HHS secretary, fresh from the profiteering pharma industry, to "fix the injustice of high drug prices." He might mean the injustice to the drug industry of laws against price-fixing, which prevent them from conspiring to raise and fix prices to even higher levels than they are already.
On to infrastructure improvement, a meaningless suggestion which seems to come up at every S.O.T.U. speech. Private corporations will not sink any money into such a thing, because it's risky and the returns are slower than would be gleaned by simply gambling with customers' money and making more money off of money than off of things. And no president in recent memory has ever suggested that public works projects actually be totally public. Where there is no profit motive, there is just no American way.
"We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love.
We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity."
Notice he doesn't say that he wants every child to have guaranteed health care and a guaranteed public education. He does want every child to be afraid of "foreigners" who make them feel so jittery in their beds at night after they see his inflammatory Tweets. And ominously, he hints at more social safety net cuts to come in some very neoliberal language: "lifting" people from welfare to work and implying that poverty is some sort of cultural problem or individual foible. This is another classic racist and misogynistic dog-whistle employed mainly by the GOP, but also echoed by the Democrats' offerings of "ladders of opportunity."
Now it's on to fulminating the discredited trope of the "trickle-down" prosperity to be unleashed by the massive tax cuts for the rich. Oh, but let's throw in some paid family leave, because that's the pet project of Daughter Ivanka, a registered Democrat until Daddy ran for president.
Finally we get to the real rancid offal of the speech: Keep All Latino Furners Out with our big, beautiful fantastic border wall. To help him make his point, Trump points to a couple more human props whose children were killed by the notorious MS-13 Gang on Long Guyland. And then, using the old divide and conquer propaganda technique, Trump wags an approving digit at a Latino ICE agent who is patriotic enough to go after his own ethnic group.
Now that he got that out of the way, he doubles down on ending the visa lottery and thus barring immigrants from what he infamously called "shithole countries." And he again lies about so-called chain migration allowing any immigrants' distant relatives to get a free ticket into the country.
Next, he tiptoes around the crisis of opioid addiction by telling the heartwarming story of a compassionate Christian cop who adopted the baby of a heroin addict. The implicit message here is that there will always be people to care for the children of addicts, so the government and the oligarchs raking in the dough don't have to worry about it. Because if the children of powerful people become addicted, there are plenty of pricey rehab hospitals to take them in while other addicts either die in the streets, or go through withdrawal in overcrowded prisons, or some stranger comes along to "lift them up."
Would it be a proper S.O.T.U. if Trump didn't also demand unlimited Congressional funding for an already bloated military machine? Naturally, this last symphonic movement elicited the requisite fascistic chorus of USA!USA!USA! as a worthy substitute for fireworks and clashing cymbals. To get the crowd adrenaline flowing, he gushes over two soldiers who helped evacuate a hospital booby-trapped by ISIS explosives, because, as they would have us believe, American soldiers never, ever commit civilian atrocities.
And just in case you still had any doubts that the US military is planning a continuation (it never officially ended) of the Korean War, they should have dissipated with Trump's introduction of his final human prop, a North Korean refugee who lost a leg and whose family was forced to eat dirt helping him to flee to freedom. He further strove to overcome our sickly inhibitions about another war with the evening's most heartless use of human props - the parents of Otto Warmbier, who was apparently tortured by North Koreans before they released him back to the States, where he died of irreparable brain damage - although with the lack of an autopsy, the cause of death was never established.
This country belongs to the police and the military, Trump bellowed.
Is it a coup yet?