We accept the truth of any
State of the Union address at our own risk.
Presidents throughout history have used the State of the Union address to undo or explain or sugarcoat their own shortcomings and failings, to mollify their supporters, and to pacify their enemies. And so in the grand scheme of things, the president’s long, rambling, discursive, but in the end robotic speech to the American people last night showed nothing other than a willingness to bend to the wishes of advisors who asked him to be more human. It was too much to ask.
For Donald Trump is nothing if not an exploiter. Nothing. We first saw that during the debates, and nothing he has done or said since has proven him to be anything else. After watching the caged and imprisoned and isolated children at the border for the past year, we can go well past the simple assertion that the man lacks empathy: more than that, he lacks basic human decency.
Last night his callousness was in full bloom when he singled out a cancer victim, seven-year-old Grace Eline, called her an inspiration, then in the same breath tied her courage and suffering to a plea for school choice.
The whole sequence went by me so fast that I almost missed it; then I looked at the transcript.
"Thank you, Grace. You are a great inspiration to everyone in this room. Thank you very much. Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades. My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical life-saving research. To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America's children."
[Five-billion up front for his useless wall. Fifty million a year for a horrific disease. But that’s another battle for another day.]
They say electricians become inured to the little shocks after a while and simply move ahead with their work. I fear we’re becoming just like them—the little jolts don’t move us anymore. But that particular use of the most vulnerable is in keeping with Trump from the beginning—the DACA extortion, the immigrant children as trading pieces, and of course last night’s exploitation of a young cancer survivor as a means to promote Betsy DeVos’s private school agenda. I hope DeVos feels at least a hint of morning-after mortification.
We reach for a new bottom every day, but even when we think we're there....
Trump apologists will say seizing on one misstep in an eighty-minute speech is unfair. But with Trump, that little snippet was the tell.
Oh he ended with some patriotic drivel about the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii, the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona, the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California, but he has no passion, aesthetic or emotional, for any of them.
If you can imagine Donald Trump, gazing out in awe at a sunset over the Pacific, or standing in the cold atop Maine's Cadillac Mountain to see where the light first shines on the U.S. every day, or marveling at the contour of the Tetons with the sun setting behind them—if you can imagineTrump appreciating any of that, then you may be one of those who will vote for him again.
But if you want to preserve any of that, and much more, and maybe relax the suffering of future Grace Elines, then you'll do your best to make Trump's next State of the Union address his last.