BY CLAIR MALENEY Listening to the president’s State of the Union speech last night, I was (once again) struck by two things: his perversion of inclusive language to divide and alienate and his warped notion of politics as a high-testosterone blood sport intended to hurt and humiliate anyone who disagrees with him, and thereby is his sworn enemy. Trump has always had a cruel way with phrases. Consider the closing from last night’s speech:
“As long as we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens and trust in our God, we will never fail. Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper and our nation will forever be safe and strong, and proud, and mighty, and free.”
All of these words ring true as words, and yet for every word I thought I could once count on, Trump has supplied a counterfactual definition. He uses phrases I agree with to say exactly the opposite of what I think they mean. America is indeed ‘fractured,’ so much so that we no longer seem to share a common language.
According to Trump, If we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for, there is nothing we cannot achieve. So who are we? What are we fighting for? If what we are fighting for — as Trump suggests — is the end of visa lotteries and chain migration then I am not proud of who we are and what we are fighting for. If it’s the end of the Iran nuclear deal, the increase in nuclear weapon stockpiling, and the escalation of tensions with North Korea, then I am not proud. If it’s the end of international aid and the beginning of an era which defines the world as ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’ then I will not be fighting for this.
In high school we learned pedagogical lessons about America’s values – not only the easily co-opted rhetoric of freedom, liberty, justice – but also that Americans welcome to strangers, and offers a place where people can transcend stigma or social class, and build their own a future. But where is the freedom when children can’t walk to school for fear of their own government arresting them for not having a piece of paper? Where is the liberty when my friend from Florida no longer discusses his opinions in public for fear of inviting physical attack – again. And where is the justice when the millions of dollars sent to rebuild Texas were never even mentioned in regards to Puerto Rico. Also left unsaid was the fact that yesterday FEMA cut off all food and water to Puerto Rico, despite the fact that 30% of residents still have no power more than 120 days after the storm.
Trump says our families will ‘thrive’ and ‘prosper’ – terms he see only as financial. Unemployment is down, he tells us, the stock market is up. But Trump’s jubilation that that African-American and Latino unemployment have reached an all time low (but are still TWICE the unemployment rate of whites) is cold comfort when we have heard him repeatedly degrade and devalue the black and brown lives and refuse to discredit white supremacy in its deadly rampage on Charlottesville’s streets. In Trump’s obsession with being ‘proud’ and ‘mighty’ he will nix the efforts to leave Afghanistan and close Guantanamo, and he has escalated tension with North Korea and offended the entire Arab world.
Trump defines American might and national interest through a very narrow scope of power through domination rather than cooperation. He’s the realist political actor gumming up the works of what what had been becoming an increasingly liberal democratic world order. So then, what do we do with a State of the Union that threatens every value and institution about America we thought we understood? What happens when we are no longer proud of who we are and what we are fighting for and are terrified of what we may be achieving? What if we no longer have confidence in America’s values, faith in America’s citizens, or trust that any God could love or forgive this nation?
Oddly, I take comfort from this section of the State of the Union to which I keep returning – for in truth it is something I agree with. The Resistance needs leadership that does more than squawk like a chickens at Trump’s corruption of our language and nation. We need to recalim Trump’s words and define them for ourselves. We need to find the policies and strategies that will truly make America safe and strong, and proud, and mighty, and free. And only then, when we are proud of who we are and what we are fighting for – will be be able to achieve the type of resistance we need to build the inclusive, just, and peaceful future that we all want to see.