Watching Donald Trump’s State of the Union Tuesday night, I kept flashing back on the routine I saw a talk show host perform years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington—God help me, I think it was David Frost—in which he imitated a politician giving a speech that was one endless, meaningless string of empty, non-sequitur rhetoric.
“Where would the country be without this great land of ours?” the phony candidate intoned, a line I now discover was later appropriated by Robin Williams as part of his Ronald Reagan impersonation.
No matter. The point is simply that Trump surrounded his usual meretricious, phony baloney claims of greatness—his own, of course, and, oh right, this great land of ours—with a heaping helping of “It’s morning in America,” imitation-Reagan speechifying.
Toward the final blessed end, he declared: “Our most exciting journeys still await. Our biggest victories are still to come. We have not yet begun to dream. We must choose whether we are defined by our differences or whether we dare to transcend them. We must choose whether we will squander our inheritance or whether we will proudly declare that we are Americans. We do the incredible. We defy the impossible. We conquer the unknown. This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit and set our sights on the brightest star.”
Which reminded me of the poster I once saw for an old movie biography of former Nazi and NASA rocket scientist Werner von Braun. The film’s title was I Aim at the Stars. At the bottom of the poster someone had scrawled, “But mostly I hit London.”
Because preceding all that two-bit eloquence was a vapor-fueled stream of bombast and prevarication. A quick glance at various scrupulous fact checks shows a plethora of exaggerations or lies about the economy and employment, trade agreements, tariffs, health care, the current state of NATO, the current state of ISIS, the current state of Korea (“If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.” Wow.) and of course, everyone’s favorite, border security.
Bordertown El Paso, Texas, came in for special attention, much to its own chagrin. Trump claimed it once “was considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” until it got a wall. But El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles told NBC: “It is sad to hear President Trump state falsehoods about El Paso, Texas, in an attempt to justify the building of a 2,000 mile wall… El Paso was a safe city long before a wall was built. President Trump continues to give a false narrative.” And Jon Barela, CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, an economic development group in the region, tweeted, “The President is living in an alternative universe based on a false narrative and offensive comments about our way of life. I say this as a lifelong Republican, businessman, and proud American.”
Particularly reprehensible were Trump’s claims that, “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth” and that Virginia’s endangered Democratic Governor Ralph Northam “stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
The Washington Post’s fact checkers write, “The legislation in New York would not have ‘allowed a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.’ It states that a health-care practitioner ‘may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.’”
As for Virginia, the fact checking team at The New York Times report, “While Mr. Northam was talking about an end-of-life care discussion in the case of a child that would not live,” Trump and Republicans “seized on his remarks as evidence that Mr. Northam supported killing babies after their birth.”
I could go on but you get the picture. All the above reminds me of that old show business joke: I called my agent this morning. “Hello,” he lied.
Trump even seemed to try to take credit for more women in the workforce but when he declared, “We also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before,” he could, perversely, take some credit. After all, it’s his misogyny and overall awfulness that compelled so many of them to seek and win electoral office.
There were some other choice bits of bomb throwing—especially, as remarked by all, Trump’s special admixture of attack dog and self-pity that had him decry “ridiculous partisan investigations” and declare to the congressional crowd, “If there is going to be peace in legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just does not work that way.” Aren’t I clever, he seemed to be saying—that rhymes, get it? Too clever by half, Individual 1, because as Wired magazine noted in December, Trump faces “at least 17 distinct court cases stemming from at least seven different sets of prosecutors and investigators. (That total does not count any congressional inquiries, nor does it include any other inquiries into other administration officials unrelated to Russia.)”
Believe me, the congressional investigations will soon be piling up, too, like Chevys at a Demolition Derby. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who from behind shot Trump such a look when he spouted that nonsense, told reporters Wednesday that she saw his words as “an all-out threat,” but that, “It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent.”
In other words, pal, despite your threats, no way out. In spite of Trump, and thanks to Pelosi and the House and other defenders of democracy, the state of the union may remain strong but he will not, wrong on virtually everything and headed for self-destruction. To be blunt, the president is full of it. But you knew that.
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Michael Winship is the Schumann Senior Writing Fellow for Common Dreams. Previously, he was the Emmy Award-winning senior writer forMoyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos, and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.