In politics today, nothing unites Americans like our thirst for political conflict. Conservatives love to “own the libs.” Liberals love to trigger tough-talking conservatives, exposing them as “snowflakes.” Donald Trump is the presidential embodiment of this toxic political culture, and his State of the Union address Tuesday night was finely crafted to unite Americans — in our love of hating one another.
The president began his speech with a few flowery words about actually bridging our divides. “The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda,” Trump said, “It is the agenda of the American people.” Calling on the nation to “reject the politics of revenge” Trump insisted: “We can break decades of political stalemate. We can… heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future.”
Or, you know, fucking not. Apart from a few feints at bipartisanship — like calling for price transparency at hospitals or a cure for child cancer — Trump fell back, again and again, on his prodigious talents as America’s Troll-in-Chief, bringing us together to rage at our deepest divisions.
1) Trump heralded his corporate tax cut as a boon for the working class
Referring to his economic achievements, Trump insisted: “We passed a massive tax cut for working families.” In truth, the president’s tax corporate cut has sent deficits soaring — for little discernible economic payoff. A recent study found that 84 percent of businesses did not increase investments or hiring in the wake of the $1.5 trillion “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” even as corporate stock buybacks have hit record levels.
As for working families? They face a national debt that will be increased by $1.9 trillion over the next decade — in exchange for a 0.4 percent increase in after-tax income for the lowest 20 percent of American earners. This does not end well: “When it is ultimately financed with spending cuts or other tax increases,” according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will “end up making most households worse off than if TCJA had not been enacted.”
2) Trump trashed congressional oversight
The president has just lost Republican control in Washington, but he insisted the nation’s economic well-being is dependent on nobody holding him accountable for anything: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States,” Trump said, “and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
3) Trump bashed undocumented immigrants as drug dealers and murderers — yet again — while demanding a wall and lauding ICE
Leaning on the racist rhetoric that launched his presidential career, Trump spent much of his SOTU address warning of an “onslaught” at our “very dangerous” southern border by “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers” and “the savage gang, MS-13,” Trump hyped violence against a couple in their 80s, who “were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada, home by an illegal alien” to again demand funding for a wall, or, rather: “a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier.” (Trump made no mention of the record government shutdown he just foisted on America in a failed bid to get Congress to fund the wall he once promised Mexico would pay for.) Praising the work of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the nation’s often sadistic deportation force, Trump seemed to preview a 2020 campaign slogan: “I pledge to you tonight that we will never abolish our heroes from ICE.”
4) Trump pivoted from his call to end child cancer to demand control of women’s bodies
Nothing marshalls America’s political tribes into battle like abortion, and Trump baited pro-choice America by parroting the talking points of the most extreme elements of the anti-choice movement. Trump claimed 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 before birth” and insisted other Democrats “would execute a baby after birth.” Trump then called on Congress “to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb” because “all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.” (Never mind Trump’s alleged penchant for unprotected sex with porn stars and pinup models who are not his wife — the hypocrisy is part of the troll.)
5) Trump insisted a socialist America would devolve into Venezuela
Blasting the “abject poverty and despair” created by the Maduro regime in Venezuela, Trump inveighed against calls, by those like Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, to make America a bit more like Denmark. “Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” Trump said, insisting: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”
At the conclusion of this ugly speech, which seemed designed to tear at the fabric of our union, Trump concluded with a jumble of dishonest platitudes about our national striving: “This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination,” Trump said. “This is the time to search for the tallest summit, and set our sights on the brightest star. This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots,” Trump added, laying it on thick. “No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together.”
The lower truth — that Trump knows in his bones but that many are loathe to admit — is that we are a united nation of moths, drawn to the bright, painful joy of conflict with our fellow citizens. See you at the next flame war, America.