Nope, I’m not going to play along. I’m not going to pretend that President Trump’s first State of the Union address on Tuesday is going to be some pivot point for his presidency and the nation. He is neither capable of nor interested in performing such magic. But that’s not stopping his administration from trying to convince us otherwise.
A senior administration official involved in crafting the annual rhetorical rite told The Post’s Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker that it would be “a speech that resonates with our American values and unites us with patriotism.” Said with a straight face, no doubt. What my colleagues reported in the next paragraph renders Trump’s Tuesday task impossible.
With its bumper-sticker-ready theme of “building a safe, strong and proud America,” the address is expected to resemble the vision of a “renewal of the American spirit” that Trump offered in his well-received speech to a joint session of Congress last February. It also will come on the heels of the pragmatic, upbeat speech he delivered Friday to a skeptical audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump very well may read every well-crafted word that scrolls on the teleprompter like a novice ice skater clings to the rink’s wall. And he’ll expect us all to applaud if he doesn’t go splat on national television. But Trump will deserve none of the plaudits. The expected words of unity will ring as hollow as the morally bankrupt man uttering them. For the reprehensible things Trump has said between last February and last Friday will make a mockery of whatever he says on Tuesday.
This is the man who goes after African Americans with zeal. Last September, Trump was braying about the peaceful protest of Colin Kaepernick and other National Football League players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality. At a rally in Alabama on Sept. 22, Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say,’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Last October, Trump (and his chief of staff) fought with Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) over her criticism of the president’s botched condolence call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed in action in Niger. Trump labeled her “wacky” after she went public. “The president enjoys picking fights with people of color. That is a fact, I mean he’s proven it,” she told me during an interview on my podcast “Cape Up” in December. “And fights about the least of things.”
Just Sunday, Trump went after Jay-Z because of critical comments the music mogul made about the president’s assertions about his role in low unemployment among African Americans. When asked by CNN’s Van Jones if Trump could “say terrible things but put money in our pockets,” Jay-Z replied, “It’s not about the money at the end of the day. Money doesn’t equate to happiness.” He added, “You treat people like human beings. That’s the main point.”
And let’s not forget the outright slurs. Last November, during a ceremony to honor World War II Navajo code talkers, not only did Trump invoke his pejorative put-down of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas,” he did so under the gaze of President Andrew Jackson, the slave-owning seventh president of the United States whose Indian Removal Act led to the “trail of tears and death.” Last month, the New York Times reported that at a June meeting, Trump said people from Haiti “all have AIDS.” That was the same meeting Trump said immigrants from Nigeria would never “go back to their huts” after coming to this country. And none of us will ever forget the president of the United States reportedly asking earlier this month, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
Each of these examples on its own is a stunning insult to who we are as Americans. But they pale in comparison to Trump’s reprehensible reaction to the white-supremacist hate unleashed on Charlottesville last August. “I think there’s blame on both sides,” Trump said, before he declared “you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
With every utterance during his petulant news conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan, the Queens-born builder stripped the presidency of its moral authority. Of its power to unite the nation in a time of grief.
His troubling lack of empathy renders him constitutionally incapable of fulfilling the most humane requirements of his job. And everything Trump has done since Charlottesville has cemented my conviction that he is temperamentally unfit to be the leader of this still great nation.
Trump has overwhelmed our senses with a near-daily deluge of offense. His tweets and pronouncements have become a tornado of gnawing self-pity and hyper self-aggrandizement that roils racial tensions and pleases his base. As long as Trump continues to cater to that hard-core fraction of the American people, there is absolutely nothing he could say Tuesday night that would be believable or could erase the past.
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