Donald Trump has an almost insurmountable hill of reality to climb and claim before I can even begin to shift my position on his untrustworthiness and unsuitability as the nation’s leader. Speeches to Congress this early in the game tell you nothing, frankly. They are designed to appeal to the speaker’s base plus his advocates in the House and Senate. Lord knows I’ve written enough speeches for national-level leaders to know that speechwriters reign supreme in cases where the speaker does not have enough innate intelligence or vision to come up with the words on his or her own.
In Trump’s case, the joint-session remarks were rather dull and lacking in the bright colors of a great speech (or even the somewhat muted colors of an okay speech). He said some things his base wanted to hear—the usual law-and-order, get-tough-on-the-nefarious-bad-dudes sort of stuff—and he attempted to develop a multi-point program for a wide-ranging national healing of everything from military readiness to industry to infrastructure. The problem was, there was no “there” there, and he failed to back up his plans with hard data. Maybe it’s just me, but I stop taking a speaker seriously after the first lie or assertion of untrue data. Lie to me once, and you’ll lie to me all the way through. Put an unsupportable number in your equation, I’ll not believe your solution, ever.
For example: Trump continued to flog the regularly discredited notion that up to 20 percent (or more) of Americans, or 95 million, are wasting away in jobless lives. That is simply not true, and no amount of repetition of the lie will turn his fiction into fact. Gary Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact checker and shepherd of the Pinocchio Award, writes today, “The picture that emerges from a study of the data shows that the 95 million consists mostly of people who are retired, students, stay-at-home parents or disabled.” They are jobless because they are not looking for work, don’t want to look for work, don’t need to look for work. Period.
If I were playing poker with Trump, I would always assume that the cards he was holding had nothing on them—that he was bluffing with less than an empty hand. He’s proven this time and time again. If this were just a card game, it would be a short one…the other players would find him out immediately, and he’d be asked to leave. But, this is a different game: Trump is holding cards he will not show and the majority of the players at the table—the Electors who voted for him to be the dealer, and those Republicans in the Congress who will fund his bets and the pot—are happy to play along. They are content to stay in Trumps game of smoke-and-mirrors poker because they are not playing with their money. They are playing with my money and my children’s money, and with your money and your children’s money, and with billions of dollars not yet appropriated or gained in revenue.
It’s oh-so-easy to play with someone else’s cash, someone else’s future earnings, someone else’s taxes, someone else’s hopes and dreams. That’s the Trumpian way, and Trump made that crystal clear Tuesday night. There is no successful economic theory that ends well for a nation that assumes debts far in excess of any potential assets.
When a President begins throwing out numbers like $56 billion or $1 trillion, and then kicks the revenue can nine years down the road to the nation’s 250th anniversary celebration, folks living in 2017 had best start building personal Arks for when the waters of Trump’s deception begin to rise. Keep in mind that Trump has absolutely no skin in this game. When it all comes tumbling down, he’ll have his billions—and the billionaires around him will still have their billions, more than enough to build gold-plated yachts of escape.
As for the rest of the speech, it was replete with his usual nationalistic, if not Jingoistic, assurances of retrieved and revived industries, tariffs impressed on our trading partners, the Great Wall, cars in every car port, and a chicken in every pot. The inner cities will become Meccas of economic and social revival, school choice will raise our children’s IQs to better than double digits, blacks will love whites, and we’ll all be singing Kumbaya as conducted by good ol’ Fred Douglass down by the riverside. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters.
No, just kidding. None of that is going to happen in the real world. Certainly not with the hand Trump is holding.
One last point on the speech. I found it morally repulsive on several levels, but when the President pointed to his guests in the gallery—a disabled woman, victims of terrible crimes, and the wife of a serviceman whose life was lost just a few weeks ago—I had no stomach for that foul play. Trump, the man who belittled a disabled journalist; Trump, the man who manipulates national crime statistics; Trump, the man who avoided the draft multiple times (thank god for bone spurs, eh, Donny?) who just had to green-light a raid to prove his cojones were larger than his hands. That Trump, who had the audacity to make sure the cameras caught every tear his guests were shedding genuinely, is not worthy of one of those tears.
Trump’s performance was unconvincing, and no Bannon-backed sleight of hand will turn his cards into winners.