President Donald Trump delivered his first—please let it be his only—State of the Uniom, er, Union address last night on January 30th, 2018. The State of the Union address is always an interesting, if somewhat terrifying, piece of theatre for me. I remember watching one of President Obama’s SOTU speeches, counting the amount of times that he used the words hope and change. This year was something else entirely. The abstract promises of hope were replaced by thinly veiled threats of deportation and nuclear war.
Although it’s true that Mr. Trump didn’t approach this address with the same level of nonchalance that he usually does when making speeches, this speech was far from perfect. He seemed to keep to his script, only improvising when he felt it necessary to make his speech seem more “bigly” by adding his unique brand of superfluous hyperbole.
That said, just because The Donald didn’t improv an hour of racist vitriol, the dog whistle solo arranged by his handlers that he did perform was anything but “unifying,” as I’ve heard a couple of pundits describe it.
Trump’s message that “Americans are dreamers too” was probably the most obvious bit of dog whistle division that he engaged in, although there were a few other groaners—when he made a sideshow out of those poor parents who lost their children, for instance. None of this was surprising, of course. The only surprising thing was that Trump, arguably, didn’t make a complete ass of himself.
But that Trump did OK, rather than being a comforting change from the status quo of being embarrassed by him, fills me with dread. Is it possible that this loose cannon is tightening up and starting to listen to his handlers, the Republican Party which Noam Chomsky calls the “most dangerous organization in human history?” His agenda certainly seems more in line with the GOP than it was during the election. This was made pretty obvious by the amount of standing ovations the Republican members of Congress provided.
This speech was more than a pep talk or an indication of the executive branch’s priorities. It was a promise, but it wasn’t a promise to the American people who Trump so frequently tries to speak for. This speech was a promise to the elephant in the room, the Republican Party.
But even though this was one of the longest State of the Unions in modern American history, Trump’s promise to the Republican Party could have been summed up in a single sentence: I am here to cooperate with your agenda as long as you support my efforts to build a border wall between us and Mexico.
I despaired last night as I watched the machine get into full swing. Recent efforts to deport immigration rights activists like Ravi Ragbir and others serve as a poignant reminder: this is how it starts.
But to borrow a well-trod phrase from the Obama era, I also have hope. Ragbir and people like him, despite being threatened by deportation and imprisonment, continue their crusades not just for themselves but also for the immigrant communities they serve. These brave individuals, rather than the Democratic Party as an institution, are the right answer to Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric.
No sympathy sideshow featuring a grieving family or a young man with crutches can stand up to the reality that, although it may be true that Americans are dreamers, dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are, in all the ways that matter, Americans.