Point Austin: Waxing “Presidential”

Trump delivers the same threats in a more polite package

Point Austin

Well, as Samuel Johnson remarked in a very different context, should you see a dog walking on its hind legs: "It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all." Yet far more laughable than Tuesday night's spectacle of Donald Trump dutifully reading from a teleprompter was that of the assembled media pundits falling all over themselves to declare his uncharacteristic performance "presidential." Amid all the absurd tributes from sources apparently inured to the Trump regime's persistent abuse of honest journalists (i.e., "enemies of the people"), it was refreshing to find The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri unimpressed: "Yup, Donald Trump spoke to Congress, and he did not bite a live bat in half." Indeed, Trump's speech was enough to make one long for the eloquence of President Shrub.

And despite the suddenly sanctimonious delivery, the content of Trump's oration (as Petri also noted) was full of the same old authoritarian snake-oil. There were the lies about crime rates; the lies about immigrants; the undermining of public schools; the absurd determination to waste billions of desperately needed infrastructure funding on a "great, great wall"; the reiterated threat to "repeal and replace Obamacare" while oxymoronically promising to maintain all the popular parts of the law; the heartfelt (and only honest) vow to deliver tax cuts. Unembarrassed, the Purveyor-in-Chief of Venal Tweets declared, "The time for small thinking is over; the time for trivial fights is behind us."

Trump shifted immediately from “condemning hate and evil” to celebrating a clearly exclusive “new national pride.”

Worst of all was the shameless pandering of the fresh grief of Carryn Owens, widow of Ryan Owens, the Navy SEAL killed in a January "counterterrorism" raid in Yemen. Trump hardly invented waving the bloody shirt, but this was a particularly egregious example of the genre (waving the bloody widow?), and he got exactly the broad media sympathy he wanted. There will be no further questioning of the reportedly botched raid, no effective public doubts over what U.S. soldiers are doing in Yemen in the first place – and absolutely no public outcry over the collateral slaughter of 25 civilians, nine children among them.

Selected Victims

All this has become D.C. business as usual, over which we're no longer supposed to be shocked, but there were at least a couple of new Trump wrinkles. He said he's asked the Department of Justice to form a "task force on reducing violent crime" – presumably they'll have plenty of resources to address those diminishing returns, as under Attorney General Jeff Sessions the DOJ will no longer be defending minority voting rights or addressing racial gerrymandering designed to protect Republican majorities. More ominously, Trump announced the creation of something (an "office"), within the already foreboding Department of Homeland Security, to be called "VOICE": "Victims of Immigration Crime Engage­ment." Although he failed to specify any details, the function of this office will apparently be to publicize (i.e., sensationalize) crimes ("ignored by our media") committed by undocumented immigrants.

As in the case of Ryan Owens, only certain human casualties are worthy of official attention, with the relatively few victims of crimes by immigrants at the very top of Trump's headline list. At the outset, Trump managed, finally, to acknowledge the rising threats and vandalism against Jewish institutions, and the recent shooting of Indian immigrants near Kansas City. But he and his spokespeople have angrily rejected any connection between his own anti-immigrant and often racist rhetoric and the recent rise in violence and threats against immigrants and minorities. He shifted immediately from "condemning hate and evil" to celebrating a clearly exclusive "new national pride." We will wait in vain for him to stage-prop the families of the victims of white supremacists like Dylann Roof. That's probably a mercy.

Austin Values

Today, March 2, City Council will consider a resolution, sponsored by Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and several colleagues, condemning the Trump executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations, opposing such discriminatory actions, and expressing "solidarity with refugee and immigrant communities, and [denouncing] discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity." The resolution notes that the courts have thus far rejected the Trump regime's actions against immigrants and refugees, and it is unlikely to meet much opposition on the dais.

It's a necessary but undeniably minimal response, and will be small comfort to those local families (should they even hear of it) torn apart in recent raids by agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most of those arrested for deportation, ICE acknowledged, were "non-criminal," meaning they were guilty of having no effective response to the official demand, "Show us your papers."

It was once a mark of American "exceptionalism" to consider such a "demand for papers" a sign of incipient, foreign tyranny. As Trump and his supporters would have it, no more. We seem to be living in the first verses of the Martin Niemöller poem that concludes: "Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me."

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