If Donald Trump has succeeded at anything, it is in considerably lowering the bar for what is considered “presidential.” That is the establishment media’s takeaway, at least, from Trump’s first address to Congress last week.
The prepared speech—which the president dutifully read from a teleprompter, despite his vocal criticism of Barack Obama’s use of the same practice—did not deviate from the president’s major policy proposals.
Trump still intends to pursue mass deportation of immigrants. He is still pledging to build a wall on the Mexican border. He is still demonizing Muslims and so-called “Radical Islam”–though he has precious little to say about the far more pervasive threat posed by Radical Christianity.
He wants to nearly quadruple the already bloated military-spending budget, vowing to “strengthen our military,” which has never ceased being the most powerful and belligerent force of violence on the planet.
And Trump is still targeting society’s most vulnerable, marginalized populations including people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, and women.
Trump’s speech, in other words, was a veritable “greatest hits” package of the same themes and promises he has been harping on since he first launched his presidential campaign in June of 2015. (That was the now infamous campaign kickoff speech in which Trump referred to Mexicans as criminals, drug-dealers and “rapists.”)
And it was just as devoid of substance, specific policy proposals, and factual information grounded in reality as anything else that has come out of the president’s mouth.
Yet, the “liberal” media nearly unanimously praised Trump’s toned-down demeanor and noticeably more restrained performance.
The New York Times—which Trump has repeatedly singled-out as the worst of the supposed perpetuators of “fake news”—called the address the “most presidential speech” Trump has “ever given.” CNN regular correspondent, Van Jones agreed, claiming with this speech Donald Trump “became president of the United States.”
Like I said, the bar is really low. What is that expression about putting lipstick on a pig, again…?
During one particularly nauseating point of the speech, Trump trotted out the newly-widowed wife of Navy SEAL, William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a botched raid in Yemen on Jan. 29. Owens is the first U.S. soldier to die under Trump’s presidency, and his administration continues to callously insist the failed raid was a “success.” At least 20 Yemeni women and children were also killed in the attack.
Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens, received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats, thus proving the two warmongering parties’ alleged “irreconcilable differences” run only so deep.
But Politico’s John Bresnahan lauded this cynical exploitation of Owens’ death—which Trump caused. “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump,” Bresnahan wrote. He is correct. Only a cold-hearted shill like Ronald Reagan would have stooped to Trump’s vile level of pandering to Americans’ blind military worship and mandatory troop exaltation to score political points.
Not only is the media’s praise of Trump unwarranted, it also threatens to distract Americans from the Predator in Chief’s actual policies.
As Adam Johnson writes in a blog post for the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), “The praise from the media for his speech was so overwhelming, Trump is reportedly delaying the roll out of his new ‘travel ban’ (his new attempt to legalize a Muslim ban) so he can soak in all the goodwill.”
Some “opposition party.”
All of this is to point out what is perhaps obvious to many readers, but nonetheless bears repeating: Leftists cannot rely on either the media, or the Democratic Party to oppose Donald Trump in any meaningful way. We must, through mass protests, demonstrations, mobilizations, and even strikes, oppose him ourselves.
As Elizabeth Schulte writes in the Socialist Worker:
For all the threats it made during the election about why we had to stop Trump by any means necessary, the Democratic Party establishment’s idea of “opposition” is so far from what’s necessary to push back the Republicans’ agenda, it’s laughable–especially when you consider the opposition that ordinary people are showing at town hall meetings and at protests that skewer their elected officials for failing to represent them.
But there is an additional element to Trump’s “presidential” speech the corporate media are overlooking. As Schulte points out, Trump’s alleged change in tone may have had more to do with assuaging the fears of congressional Republicans, who still have a rather tenuous relationship with this president.
Not only have the various scandals that have plagued Trump’s administration a mere six weeks into his presidency detracted from the Republican Congress’ actual work (note, for instance, Republicans’ failure to make good on their signature pledge to repeal Obamacare–a vow which has now turned into “repeal and replace,” though replace with what, precisely, remains unclear), but the capitalist elite maintain deep ideological disagreements with key aspects of Trump’s agenda, particularly his isolationist, “America First” and anti-free-trade positions.
Likewise, the president’s nearly singular focus on implementing draconian immigration laws is at odds with capital’s need for cheap, super-exploitable labor from abroad. And Trump’s plan to create “millions” of manufacturing jobs is exactly the sort of “Big Government” program the GOP is adamantly opposed to.
Indeed, Trump’s blatant opposition to the major pillars of so-called “late-stage” capitalism (free-trade, globalization, and access to cheap labor from abroad) is precisely why neoliberal stalwart Hillary Clinton–not Trump–was the capitalist bourgeoisie’s preferred choice for president. How deep and protracted capital’s fight with Trump becomes–and the lengths the so-called “deep state” goes to keep President Trump in line–remains to be seen.
But for now, Trump is merely trying to assure the Establishment everything will be alright. That is, alright for them, anyway. For the working class, not so much…
“Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,” says Killer Mike, on the rap duo, Run the Jewels’ excellent new self-titled album, Run the Jewels 3, in an overt reference to Trump. “He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” (“Shaytan” is Arabic for “Satan.”)
Nearly two months after his swearing-in, Trump may finally be getting the hang of acting the part of president–at least in the same way that Richard Nixon eventually learned how to appear “presidential” for the TV cameras. But he has not altered his xenophobic, racist, anti-worker views one bit.
Trump and his advisers live in their own warped reality, devoid of facts, science, and historical accuracy. They cite phony terrorist attacks that never occurred as justification for their discriminatory policies. Trump by his own admission, does not read. And his equally anti-intellectual supporters have a perverse contempt for those who do.
The media should not be so easily fooled, and neither should we.
Trump is a con artist–and a highly transparent one, at that. The great–if not, indeed, the tragic–irony of Trump’s election is how he managed to convince enough struggling, working-class Americans that he actually cares one iota about them and their plight. And that if they just work hard enough, or sufficiently desire strongly enough, they too can be rich and famous like him.
“If politics is like show business,” Neil Postman warned in 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, “then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether. And what the other matter is can be expressed in one word: advertising.”
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