“There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.”
So began President Donald Trump’s first Oval Office address to the nation on Tuesday night ― an address designed to scare the American people into believing our country is on the brink of being overrun by sexual predators and violent gang members.
Watching the speech, I couldn’t help but think it had the feel of an opening statement rather than a closing remark. There were no new announcements or declarations. There wasn’t any definitive action being taken; no decision being made. In fact, nothing was said that hadn’t already been said before. It was a stark contrast to past Oval Office addresses that have marked some of the most transformative moments in our nation’s history.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the Oval to announce his decision to send military personnel to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce school desegregation. President John F. Kennedy gave a speech there to announce the blockade against Cuba that led to the dramatic Cuban missile crisis. President Lyndon Johnson used the Oval Office to make the shocking announcement that he would not run for re-election. President Richard Nixon gave his famous resignation speech from the Oval. And who could forget President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on September 11, 2001?
Tuesday night, we got Trump saying the same things he’s been saying about his border wall for the better part of two years as president.
This wasn’t an address designed to change minds or convince congressional Democrats to work with him to end the shutdown. It seemed more like a preamble ― the first step toward something much more decisive and much more worrying. If Trump’s ultimate intention is to further militarize the border, this was a building block.
A few weeks ago, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon told a New York Magazine reporter that “you either have a crisis or you don’t.”
“If it’s a crisis, act like it,” he said for the piece, which was published this week. “Declare a national-security emergency on the southern border. Deploy troops not to assist the Border Patrol but to replace them, then you bring in the Army Corps of Engineers to build the wall. Get the backhoes out and start digging.”
It makes you wonder if Trump, who has seen a lengthy list of departures from his administration, is once again taking calls and advice from Bannon.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to Trump’s address by announcing their intention to “separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security” to “reopen the government while allowing the debate over border security to continue.” Separating the shutdown from the border issue would force Trump to either veto multiple bills to reopen the government and own the shutdown even more than he already does ― or to effectively retreat and risk invoking the ire of his base.
Maybe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and fellow Republicans will decide it’s time to move on. But accepting defeat is not in Trump’s DNA. When Trump doesn’t get his way, he lashes out and looks for ways to demonstrate strength and dominance.
Don’t be surprised if the shutdown drags on and Trump asks the news networks for more primetime air to give a second Oval Office address. The speech practically writes itself: “A few weeks ago, I delivered my first Oval Office address in the hopes that it would provoke congressional Democrats into doing the right thing and passing urgently needed border security funding to address the growing crisis at our southern border. Instead, they’ve refused to act and have left innocent Americans vulnerable to violence from gangs, drug cartels, and rapists. We can’t afford to allow Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to hold our national security hostage any longer. That is why tonight, I am declaring a national security emergency on the southern border and sending military personnel to the border immediately to start building the wall.”
Trump’s first Oval Office address was the opening act ― a ploy to appear calm, controlled, and reasonable. It’s just a setup for the next one.
Kurt Bardella is a HuffPost Columnist and served as the spokesperson and senior advisor for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2009-2013. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella