The Ides of Trump

March 4, 2017

A brief observation about the address to Congress. But then, something each can do.

Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress this week was a great relief to his supporters in the Republican Party because he sounded “presidential,” meaning that he had pretty much stayed on the script. And he had demonstrated his skill in manipulating the emotions of a crowd: he managing to keep a standing ovation directed at the widow of the Navy Seal killed in Yemen going for 1 minute and 49 seconds; but then, reverting to his true nature, he couldn’t resist congratulating himself, announcing that this much applause must be some kind of record.

The mission, in which this young man died, was approved by Trump just five days into his presidency and over dinner. When it failed, Trump blamed “the generals.” The entertainment style stunt, exploiting the grieving widow, has pretty much foreclosed an inquiry into the mission and the decision-making process involved, the possibility that it was authorized in order to provide a photo op for the president.

Trump said that a new chapter in American glory had begun and that a renewal of the American spirit was on course. He said the NATO nations were pouring in money to pay for their share of the collective defense, just as he had demanded that they do. (The NATO nations were doing nothing of the sort; they were doing nothing except worrying about whether America was any longer a reliable ally.) All this in the first forty days of his presidency! There was much more that he claimed he had done in this period, but I’ve promised this would be brief.

Le Monde’s headline to the address to Congress story was that Le « président Twitter », agressif, intempestif, a cédé la place au « président prompteur », mais le fond est resté le même, but at bottom the same man, aggressive and intemperate, and the same programs. Le Monde wondered how the big increase in defense spending squared with Trump’s statements that the United States would no longer act on behalf of the world, that NATO was obsolete, and that America’s interests were with fortress America, economic nationalism barricaded behind barriers both physical and of trade policy. The rest of the story focused on what had not been said, the details about funding and authorizations and legalities that had been left out of the speech. In this, the French coverage was similar to that of the New York Times. The New York Times, however, had avoided saying that le fond est resté le même, that nothing had really changed.

La Jornada* began its story about the speech saying that it was un discurso de bonita y optimista retórica que disfraza el mismo contenido oscuro de su proyecto político, “a speech of pretty and optimistic rhetoric that masks the same dark content of his political project.” Jornada also noted the absence of details and noted that all concerned with previous Trump initiatives, especially immigrants, were left as apprehensive as they had been before the address. Especially notable to Jornada’s correspondent was that news organizations like the Times and CNN, that had previously been labeled “enemies of the American people,” now praised the “tone” and the “rhetoric.” But New York Times columnist, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman had this to say about the speech and the response of the media:

But then you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump’s congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter—and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief “presidential.”

The image of the mask struck me. The teleprompter has become Trump’s mask. Behind it lies the authentic Trump. We should not be fooled.

Something to Do

“On March 15th, each of us will mail Donald Trump a postcard that publicly expresses our opposition to him. And we, in vast numbers, from all corners?of the world, will overwhelm the man with his unpopularity and failure. We will show the media and the politicians what standing with him—and against us—means.” So begins an email that was forwarded to me recently.

This protest effort, called The Ides of Trump, is nationwide, apparently, with postcard writing parties springing up in places like South Carolina. Since I cannot, from here, participate in a march or demonstration, I can do this. We can each write a few words, express our contempt, say “I refuse,” spell out what we stand for, or just be snarky with a “you’re fired.” If a million postcards hit the White House, the media will notice. If the gesture fizzles, you will at least feel better.

On March 15th, mail your messages to:

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

* La Jornada, a Mexican national newspaper, is homologous to both Le Monde and The Guardian in that it is not owned by shareholders and is not dependent on advertising. Its sponsorship is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the largest university in Latin America.

Previous post:

Next post: