New York Times (Opinion)
By Andrew Rosenthal
March 1, 2017
First as a candidate, and now as president, Donald Trump has drawn fire for promising the moon and stars without giving the slightest hint of how he intended to obtain them. In fact, as Tuesday night’s speech to Congress demonstrated so clearly, the president is actually a master of the art of diminished expectations.
On Tuesday night, we are told, he looked sober and presidential, when all he actually did was read a speech from a Teleprompter without veering off into one of his incoherent rants. It’s hard to believe that even the ill-disciplined and narcissistic Trump would have stood in the well of the House of Representatives and tried to lead a chant of “lock her up” or slapped journalists with the “enemy of the people” label that has been a favorite of dictators for more than a century.
Americans are supposed to be delighted, or at least relieved, that Trump began his speech by denouncing anti-Semitic threats and attacks, which have proliferated since he took office. But it took the president long weeks to make that simple statement, and just a few hours before his speech in the Capitol, he was suggesting to a group of state attorneys general that anti-Semitic attacks might actually have been carried out by people who want “to make others look bad” (in other words, his political opponents).
At one point, Republican lawmakers in the chamber leapt to their feet, cheering in sycophantic approval, when Trump announced that he was going to put an end to the “uncontrolled entry” into the United States of people “from places where proper vetting cannot occur.”
This is a classic Trumpian stunt, inventing a problem and then promising to fix it. There is no free access for refugees to this country — it takes about two years to clear the vetting process — and none of the fatal terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 have been committed by people from the seven countries Trump targeted with his anti-Muslim visa ban.
If Trump did nothing about immigration, he could cross “uncontrolled entry” off his list because it’s not happening and it never has. Under Trump’s leadership, there won’t be any flying pigs, either, and Bigfoot will finally be prevented from tracking his muddy footprints through the Capitol Rotunda.
The Republicans dutifully roared their approval when Trump announced that he had “directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS.” Apparently it had never occurred to President George W. Bush or President Obama to do that.
And he announced with a self-satisfied smirk that he had chosen a nominee for the Supreme Court “who will defend our Constitution.” All Supreme Court justices, from the most liberal to the most conservative, strive to defend the Constitution, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. The question is how the justices interpret the country’s founding document.
Trump cited the fact that there are 43 million people on food stamps and living in poverty in the United States. That is indeed a shameful truth, but Trump didn’t actually promise to do anything about it.
Trump can keep on railing about law and order and promising to bring down the crime rate without worrying too much about it, because it’s coming down anyway. These days, Trump lies about record crime rates around the country when actually they are at historic lows. In a year or two, he’ll be taking those same numbers and claiming credit for them.
The president talked a lot about national unity on Tuesday night, although I suspect that what he meant was that we should all unite behind his policies, behind his philosophy and, most important, behind him personally.
Trump declared that the “time for small thinking is over,” presumably referring to his predecessor’s small ideas, like reforming health care, fighting racism and poverty, giving all Americans the right to marry the person they love and rallying allies who had been alienated by President Bush.
And Trump said the time for “trivial fights is behind us.” He just didn’t say which trivial fights he meant.
Protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people? Safeguarding voting rights? Investigating whether members of the Trump team had colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election? Or maybe finally getting him to release his tax returns, as every other modern president has done?
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