I have to admit that as much as I've always looked forward to this yearly address to Congress and the nation, I've spent the same amount of time since the election trying to not think about what would be Trump's first address to Congress. It was one of those things that I couldn't even fathom, and even when I tried, all I could imagine was the Trump we all saw on the campaign trail - a blowhard amateur, unable to stay on message, much less speak in a complex sentence structure. I figured that the only good thing that would come out of a Trump address would be non-stop fodder for the writers at Saturday Night Live.
Well, Mr. Trump certainly did not let me down in his first address to Congress and the nation last night. There were many issues with Trump's speech; not just in the words, but in the optics, and also in the context of all of the things going on around the speech.
First, I'd encourage all of you to go read the transcript of Trump's speech and see if you can identify a common thread in the writing, as compared to the transcript of previous addresses made by Obama.
Do you see it?
Here's an excerpt from President Obama's final state of the union address to Congress:
"That's why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn't weaken them, we should strengthen them. And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today. That's what the Affordable Care Act is all about. It's about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when we lose a job, or go back to school, or start that new business, we'll still have coverage. Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far. Health care inflation has slowed. And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.Now, I'm guessing we won't agree on health care anytime soon. But there should be other ways both parties can improve economic security. Say a hardworking American loses his job – we shouldn't just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that's ready to hire him. If that new job doesn't pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. And even if he's going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him. That's the way we make the new economy work better for everyone."
"Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.Over 43 million people are now living in poverty, and over 43 million Americans are on food stamps.More than 1 in 5 people in their prime working years are not working.We have the worst financial recovery in 65 years.In the last 8 years, the past Administration has put on more new debt than nearly all other Presidents combined.We've lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since NAFTA was approved, and we've lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800 billion dollars.And overseas, we have inherited a series of tragic foreign policy disasters."Notice the difference in sentence structure? It seems as if the writers of Trump's speech realized that he is unable to speak in complex, understandable sentences, so they relegated him to small phrases made up of 7-9 plus words that translate to bullet points when spoken.
The reason this is worth pointing out is because it speaks to the fact that we have a guy in the Oval Office who does not understand the complexity of the job he was elected to perform. He lacks the awareness of nuance and can only speak in a manner suitable for Twitter, not for the Leader of the Free World.
Next, Trump made many claims throughout his speech that when fact-checked, turn out to be untrue or slightly true, but also misleading. When Trump takes credit for being a job creator, taking credit for bringing jobs from Ford, Fiat, Intel, and others back to the American people, what he's not telling you is that in many cases, these job increases were parts of plans that had already been in place for years. It seems crazy that Trump can take credit for Fiat-Chrysler jobs that have been part of an industrialization plan put in place last year to coincide with a 2015 deal with the UAW.
If I remember correctly, Trump was still nothing more than a celebrity millionaire with a reality show in 2015, toying with the idea of running for office, and was also still peddling the claim that President Obama was not born in America. His only connection to Fiat-Chrysler at the time might as well be that he owns multiple vehicles. But we know this is a trademark of the Donald Trump era - taking credit for something you literally had nothing to do with.
As quoted above, Trump stated that 94 million Americans "are out of the labor force." What Trump is trying to sell you is a scary number taken out of context with the intention of proving his campaign claim that "The unemployment rate may be as high as 42%." Trump is not telling the truth on a couple of levels. First, his 94 million number includes folks who are retired, are college students, the disabled, and stay at home parents. The majority of these folks have said they either didn't want or need at job at this time. This number that is meant to scare the public is simply not true, nor is it an indicator of a bad economy.
Now, how about that statement to work with members of both parties to create clean air and water? This one actually made me laugh, because literally in the hours before the speech, Trump signed an order rolling back the "Clean Water Rule." Also, it is being circulated that Trump intends to lay off nearly 20% of the people currently working for the EPA. Hardly seems like a sincere attempt to create clean air and water. Also, consider that Flint, Michigan has now gone over 1,000 days since they've had clean drinking water.
But perhaps the biggest moment of the evening and of Trump's speech is the one that made me sick to my stomach: he used the widow of fallen Navy Seal Owens as a political prop to sell his first military operation as a success. Trump went on to lie, saying that General Mattis confirmed that the operation in Yemen was a success that generated large amounts of intelligence. Now, we don't know if Mattis actually said this to Trump, but we do know that an overwhelming amount of military analysts and officials would not characterize this operation as a success. And let's be honest here, labeling a military operation such as this one, a success or failure is a false binary choice. It's hard to call an operation successful when it resulted in the death of a solider or civilians, or when a $90 million dollar aircraft had to be destroyed, or when a top leader of a terrorist organization escaped capture. There's no way the American people should accept the claim that this operation was a success, especially considering the way that this operation was handled.
From the start, it's disturbing that this president couldn't be bothered to interrupt his dinner with his son in law and Steve Bannon to go down to the Situation Room to observe the mission, instead spending the evening on Twitter. I think of the iconic photo of President Obama in the Situation Room, surrounded by the folks involved in the decision to green light the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. The President was present, intent on being as close as he could be with the soldiers who risked their lives on his order.
That is leadership.
In the days following the raid, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, first said the raid was a success, then as details were released about the numerous civilian deaths, the destruction of the Osprey, failure to capture any valuable intelligence or enemy operatives, Spicer shifted his position, saying the operation was originally planned by the Obama administration. This shift was intended to place the blame on the outgoing administration, though it was clear that Obama never gave the green light on the operation, due to timing and insufficient evidence that the operation would be worth it. Trump seemed to jump on the first opportunity to give the green light to a military operation, an amateur move meant to convey an image of a decisive and strong Commander-In-Chief, though he clearly didn't even know or care enough about the operation to oversee it. Spicer then tried to sell the raid as an intelligence gathering operation. Another lie, as Seal Team Six is not the team that gets sent in for intel based missions. But even if that were true, what intelligence was gathered? Again, another lie comes from the administration as the Pentagon releases an instructional video of homemade bomb-making techniques believed to be recovered...that we already had in possession for over 10 years!
But now the story has shifted again, with Trump proclaiming this operation as a success, even after saying just yesterday morning that it was the Generals who lost Owens. When asked, he specifically said "they" lost him, shifting all the blame and responsibility to someone, anyone else. Later that evening, Trump used a moment in his speech to prop up a grieving widow in order to gain political points. It is sickening to see this woman being manipulated and used for the sole purpose of making Trump appear presidential. And even more sickening, the media is highlighting this moment to say that this is the moment where Trump became President.
The idea that a man who literally has no idea what he is doing, who got up in front of Congress and was able to read a prepared speech off of a teleprompter, written by someone else, and written in a manner suitable for a 3rd grader, has magically become Presidential, is the lowest possible bar we could set for what leadership looks like in this country. The media is giving him points for not insulting someone, as is his usual style. Are you kidding me?!?! Anyone could have gone up to that podium and given that speech...it is not an accurate measure of the ACTIONS Trump has taken in his first weeks on the job.
Last night, we saw an Adderall version of Trump, meant to appear as someone who could appeal to the masses. This is not an accurate portrayal of the man who sits in the Oval Office now, who gives in to every chance to jump on Twitter to spout libel about someone or something he doesn't like; the man who has spent more time Tweeting and golfing than in intelligence briefings, the man who gave the green light on a military operation in such a cavalier manner that he didn't even bother to stay up to hear the results of the raid.
I'm becoming more convinced that throughout this presidency, these addresses will mean nothing. Instead, we must look at the actions and the doings of this administration to see what is really going on. And what is really going on is an unhinged, power hungry man, looking to stoke his ego and expand his brand in any way possible, no matter the cost or who gets lost in his wake.