In his State of the Union Tuesday night, Donald Trump called on the Congress “to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers—and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
Undermine the public trust? Fail the people? Am I the only one who heard this and thought maybe he subliminally was begging the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment on his sorry ass and put the rest of us out of our misery?
You think it can’t get any crazier and then it just does. Trump’s speech started out okay—in the sense that the teleprompter didn’t blow up and there wasn’t much in his initial rhetoric which couldn’t have been said by any past American president playing up the country’s spacious skies and fruited plains, etc.
“We have faced challenges we expected, and others we could never have imagined,” he intoned. “We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We have endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul, and the steel in America’s spine.” And so on. He also called for unity and bipartisanship, filling out all the proper blank spaces in the perennial White House speechwriting game of Mad Libs.
Familiar, too, was his SOTU litany of American heroes who have saved lives, endured hardship or achieved success, a tradition begun in 1982 when Ronald Reagan introduced Lenny Skutnik, the government employee who jumped into the icy waters of the Potomac and saved a drowning plane crash survivor. Every president hopes that these worthy stories inspire and, perhaps more truthfully, that a little of the heroic shine of those brave men and women rubs off on the chief executive himself.
Like his predecessors, Trump bragged about what he perceives as his administration’s accomplishments—at great length in his case (only Bill Clinton has ever spoken longer during a State of the Union)—and with particular emphasis on his and the Congress’ cherished tax bill.
“The biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history,” he said, one of many exaggerations, distortions and outright lies in the speech. He says it all the time, but as NPR’s Jim Zarroli notes, “Both in inflation-adjusted dollars and as a percentage of GDP, the recent cuts trail the Economic Recovery Acts of 1981 passed during the first Reagan administration. They also trail cuts passed during the Truman, Johnson and Obama administrations, according to The Washington Post.”
Yes, there were lots of dissemblings like that, the prevarications we’ve come to expect from this president, as regular as breathing out and breathing in. And there was his familiar building of straw men. As with the non-existent War on Christmas (and the war on “beautiful, clean coal”), he generates false scenarios of vast mistreatment of police, the military and veterans, vows to defend the Constitution “as written” and works to undermine whatever public trust still remains in government.
But where the address really went off the rails—that is, right before the parts about keeping Guantanamo Bay open and cutting off foreign aid to nations who have spoken against our declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—was when the president started talking about immigration, an issue he views with the asperity of a harbormaster turning away a plague ship.
In the speech, he announced, “Americans are Dreamers, too”—not to bolster solidarity with those undocumented and now endangered men and women brought here as children, but to diminish and imply that they’re no one special. What’s more, like those who proclaim “All Lives Matter” in the face of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was a dog whistle, one that immediately was seized on by white supremacists like Richard Spencer.
Instead of talking about the United States as a nation of immigrants, instead of praising what those from other places have brought to our country, Trump conflated innocent Dreamers and legal immigrants with members of the violent MS-13 gang, telling stories of murder and mayhem to once again gin up fear and paranoia. He laid out his “four pillars” of immigration reform as a fair and “down the middle” compromise but in the next breath described his proposal as “legislation that fulfills my ironclad pledge to sign a bill that puts America first.”
Yes, this is our “new American moment,” as Trump proclaimed. Perfect in its jingoism and sophistry, it’s a place where the occasional high-flown flourish of rhetoric bears little resemblance to actual policy. It’s the America of close-minded bigotry, of xenophobia and authoritarianism that reflects the mindset of a man surrounding himself with nodding nationalist sycophants, a chief executive who watches nothing but Fox News.
For me, having recently been exposed to more of Fox than is reasonably healthy I now more fully understand why that notorious Trump “base” thinks the way it does—and how that thinking was reflected in his State of the Union.
Madly pirouetting as fast as it can from reality, its hosts, news anchors and pundits spin an alternative universe that puts Oz or Narnia to shame, a world in which America is one big, Caucasian history theme park but where the newer rides all have something wrong with them. If we just went back to the old-fashioned, rickety merry-go-round and roller coaster, they say, and let in nothing but white people, everything will be right again.
“USA!” Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill cheered on Tuesday night. “USA! USA!” But when the cheering stops we still are left with a disreputable president who has dragged said same USA into an existential crisis from which it’s conceivable we may not recover.
That’s why it was uplifting to hear Joe Kennedy III deliver the Democratic Party response to Trump, saying, “Bullies may land a punch. They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”
Sounds great and with luck, grace and perseverance let’s hope we can make it true. It could be too late. Trump and his cronies may already have driven us smack into a wall, the republic’s dead end.
Top photo: Awful in countless ways from the start, where the address really went off the rails—that is, right before the parts about keeping Guantanamo Bay open and cutting off foreign aid to nations who have spoken against our declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—was when the president started talking about immigration, an issue he views with the asperity of a harbormaster turning away a plague ship. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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In 1814, First Lady Dolley Madison helped hide the White House’s famous portrait of George Washington from the British when they burned and sacked the capital. But if the current pack of brigands raiding DC has its way, by the time they’re done, that painting and every other piece of government property that isn’t nailed down will be stolen and put up for sale on eBay.
That’s because a smash-and-grab mob is running the government. If they continue the way they are, every agency, every social program, every benefit and every one of us not-rich-people will take it in the wallet as they rapaciously loot the system.
The tax reform plan is today’s Exhibit A. This is greed, plain and simple, toadying to the richest of the land who write the campaign checks. Simultaneously, Trump, his associates and Congress seem to be lining their own pockets with ill-gotten gains. And all the time trying to pretend otherwise to a public that by a margin of 2-to-1 already realizes that this so-called tax reform legislation is a total scam, a classic bait-and-switch.
On Saturday, Jim Tankersley noted in The New York Times that the package “leaves nearly every large tax break in place. It creates as many new preferences for special interests as it gets rid of. It will keep corporate accountants busy for years to come… [A]mbitions fell to the powerful forces of lobbying and the status quo.
… What emerged on Friday, in the final product agreed to by Republican members of a House-Senate conference committee, was a bill that layers new tax complexities upon businesses large and small, and which delivers a larger share of benefits to corporations and the rich than to the middle class.
And yet on Sunday, Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis wrote in The Washington Post that with straight faces, members of the GOP congressional leadership were arguing that the bill “is aimed primarily at helping the middle class, brushing aside nonpartisan analyses that show the bulk of the legislation’s benefits would go to the wealthy and to corporations.”
Here’s one of them, Texas Sen. John Cornyn on ABC’s This Week: “This will benefit hard-working American families, people in the lower income tax brackets, and everybody in every tax bracket will see a tax cut.”
Wow. So much smoke is being blown by Republicans you’d think the capital was sitting in the middle of the California wildfires. The tax code already is complicated and they’ve made their rewrite of existing law a hastily thrown together hodgepodge, an ill-informed and ill-conceived mess being rushed through to get a legislative win ahead of year’s end and to unload the gravy train of its goodies before the electoral whistle blows and we throw the rascals out onto the tracks.
There are tons of profitable dodges laced throughout this behemoth thousand-page bill — more than a trillion dollars’ worth. Changes to the estate tax, for example, lowering the top marginal tax rate and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders reports that 15 of our largest corporations alone, including Apple, GE, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, will now receive “an additional $236 billion tax cut” on top of the $3.9 trillion in tax advantages they’ve received over the last three decades.
But take a look at this giveaway uncovered by our friend David Sirota at International Business Times (IBT) and his colleagues Alex Kotch, Andrew Perez and Josh Keefe. Over the weekend and on Monday, the investigative team reported in rapid succession that Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the only Republican member who had voted against the Senate version of the bill but who was now reversed himself, did so shortly after a provision was added that gives a tax break to real estate investors like himself, not to mention Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, their families and many others.
Corker then denied that this was why he had changed his vote, defending himself by saying he had not even read the bill he now was supporting (!), let alone known about the new language. He demanded that Utah’s Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, tell him how the favorable provision was added. Hatch said he himself had written it (the Center for Responsive Politics notes that since 1989, Hatch has received more than $1 million in campaign contributions from the real estate industry).
Subsequently, IBT reported that not only does Bob Corker’s chief of staff also stand to make out like a bandit from the real estate tax loophole, but so do 14 Republican senators (including Corker) who “hold financial interests in 26 income-generating real-estate partnerships — worth as much as $105 million in total. Those holdings together produced between $2.4 million and $14.1 million in rent and interest income in 2016, according to federal records.”
Our legislators are supposed to come to Washington to do good. Instead they do well, really well, raking in the dollars at the expense of you and me. Income inequality continues to mount, with the top 1 percent controlling some 40 percent of America’s wealth as benefits are stolen away from those desperately in need.
This tax bill is the Christmas gift that just keeps giving — but not to the millions of Americans who could really use some relief, including and especially the poor and working class who bought Donald Trump’s baloney about never being ignored again. They’ll be lucky to get lumps of “clean, beautiful coal” in their stockings.
Top photo: “Our legislators are supposed to come to Washington to do good,” writes Winship. “Instead they do well, really well, raking in the dollars at the expense of you and me. Income inequality continues to mount, with the top 1 percent controlling some 40 percent of America’s wealth as benefits are stolen away from those desperately in need.” (Image: Poster detail / with overlay)