That Donald Trump is getting bipartisan praise for Tuesday night’s fit of demagoguery masquerading as a presidential address is a frightening demonstration of how his first month in office has left those of who are supposed to hold him accountable timid and shell-shocked. We’ve been conditioned to accept behavior from the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth that we’d never have accepted from his predecessors (and I have pretty low expectations of presidents) — that we’d never accept from a friend, relative, pastor or community leader — as long as he spares us and our group from his attacks.
We need to be better than that.
Trump’s speech included plenty of lies, but they were the same lies that we’re used to hearing from this president. Because there weren’t any new lies, Trump gets praised. The speech was full of fact-free fear-mongering and ethnic scapegoating. But it’s the same variety of fear-mongering and ethnic scapegoating we’ve come to expect from this president. At least he didn’t ratchet up the demagoguery. So Trump gets praised. The speech was shallow and narcissistic. But that’s just who Trump is. It wasn’t any more shallow or narcissistic than, say, his Twitter feed. So Trump gets praised. The alleged magnanimity in the speech for which Trump is winning plaudits wasn’t just transparent and contrived; it was wholly at odds with Trump’s past behavior. His very recent past behavior. As in, his behavior from just hours earlier. But the pundit class has the memory of a tsetse fly. So Trump gets praised.
At the most cosmetic level, the speech was also terribly written. I’m not particularly fond of soaring oratory, but this was neither that nor candid straight talk. It was an attempt at soaring oratory that floundered. To say that “a new national pride is sweeping across our nation” isn’t lofty or inspiring. It’s dull, vague and repetitive. “Finally, the chorus became an earthquake” is a hot mess of a mixed metaphor.
More substantively, Trump’s speech was full of his typical doom-and-gloom pronouncements about America that tend to cover a spectrum of deception ranging from “unable to prove or disprove” to “completely at odds with reality.”
Here are a few of the more egregious passages from what was apparently Trump’s most presidential moment to date. I’ll leave it to others to address his trade and protectionism shtick. I’ll mostly stick to my area of crime and civil liberties.
The problems begin right at the top:
Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.
Literally just hours before his speech, Trump had implied that some or most or all of the anti-semitic attacks may have been perpetrated by Jews themselves. When he was previously asked about the wave of attacks, Trump took offense, angrily told a Jewish reporter to “sit down,” then boasted about his electoral college victory. He has been roundly criticized for using his Twitter account to hype up terrorist attacks by Muslim radicals (to the point of congratulating himself for his own demagoguery) but remaining quiet about attacks on Muslims, such as the recent mass shooting in Quebec. I personally think it’s a bit much to expect the president to condemn nearly every bad thing that happens in the world. But Trump’s singling out of Muslims has been striking. That he found a few lines in his speech to unequivocally denounce anti-semitism and the clearly racist shooting in Kansas City is fine. It doesn’t suddenly make him credible on any of this.
We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross — and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.
By whose measure? While it’s true that there has been a surge in opioid abuse in recent years, much of the problem is driven by prescription medication available here in the United States. Outside of opioids, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, drug use is down, sharply. Marijuana imports from Mexican cartels are down dramatically, thanks to legalization (which Trump’s attorney general would like to see overturned). Meth imports are up, but that’s largely because domestic crackdowns have created demand for imports. (And you can make a strong argument that the demand for meth is itself the product of prohibiting conventional amphetamines.)
Given that illegal drugs are, well, illegal, there’s no foolproof way to prove or disprove the claim. The best we can do is look at border seizures of illicit drugs, on the theory that if demand, the numbers of border agents and the methods of detection remain the same from year to year, the ratio of illicit drugs seized to the total quantity of drugs smuggled will remain about the same. By this measure — really, the only one we have — Trump’s claim fails. Overall, border seizures of illicit drugs are trending down, not up. (See this graph in particular.) Even heroin seizures dropped in 2015 after hitting a high the year before.
To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a Task Force on Reducing Violent Crime.
This isn’t all that offensive, but it also isn’t particularly original. Washington is full of task forces and blue ribbon commissions. They aren’t particularly effective. President Lyndon Johnson had a commission to study crime. Richard Nixon had a regular task force on drugs, a youth task force on drugs, a police task force within his National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals and a National Council on Organized Crime, among others. Ronald Reagan had a slew of task forces and commissions, including for victims’ rights, drug smuggling and organized crime. Crime went up during all three of those administrations.
I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation.
Good luck. George W. Bush thought he could do that by coercing the Mexican government into militarizing its drug war. The country’s homicide rate jumped by nearly 250 percent. Life expectancy in Mexico dropped for the first time in 60 years. The drug cartels exist for one reason, and only one reason: The drugs they smuggle are illegal in the United States. Alcohol is every bit as addictive as most illicit drugs. There are no alcohol cartels. The cartels exist because people will always want to get high, and because most ways of doing so are illegal. Again, it’s worth noting that the legalization of marijuana has hurt the Mexican cartels — and Trump’s attorney general wants to overturn it.
We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth — and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted.
Drug prohibition has failed for more than a century. The Trump era won’t be any different.
Credit where it’s due: The line about expanding treatment is welcome. We’ll have to see how that manifests in actual numbers.
By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed — but that can’t happen in an environment of lawless chaos.
Immigrants — including undocumented immigrants — are a net benefit for the economy. They produce more than they take out. They also provide an estimated net $12 billion to Social Security. Currently, the United States spends $30 billion on immigration enforcement, more than on all other federal law enforcement combined. Spending more money to deport people who are a net benefit to the economy won’t “save billions of dollars,” it will cost many, many billions. The conservative-leaning group American Action Forum estimates that Trump’s original plan to deport all undocumented immigrants would cost $100 billion to $300 billion. The same group estimates that Trump’s plan would also shrink the economy by more than $1 trillion, and Moody’s estimates it could shrink the labor force by as much as 5 percent. That would drive up wages, as Trump says, but it would also drive up prices, which would eventually cost jobs. The MIT Technology Review estimates that Trump’s border wall will cost $27 billion to $40 billion. Finally, there’s zero evidence that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate number of crimes. Countless studies over the past several decades have shown that immigrants (undocumented and otherwise) are much less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens and that they’re underrepresented in jails and prisons (outside of immigration detention centers, of course.) El Paso — one of the most Latino big cities in America, and just across the river from one of the most violent cities in the world — has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the country.
We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.
Who knows what Trump means by this. Barack Obama, after all, deported more than any previous president. Trump’s supporters like to boast that he has “taken the cuffs off” of border patrol agents, and we’ve seen repeated stories of unlawful detainments. That does little for either integrity or the rule of law.
For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great wall along our southern border. It will be started ahead of schedule and, when finished, it will be a very effective weapon against drugs and crime.
See the above discussion on the cost of the border wall. By one estimate, it could take 16 years to build. It also faces significant geographic and ethical challenges. And it won’t come anywhere close to fixing most of the problems that Trump attributes to the “open border.” Even Trump’s own homeland security secretary has said that a border wall won’t do what Trump claims.
As we speak, we are removing gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our citizens. Bad ones are going out as I speak tonight and as I have promised. To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income or a loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?
This is a craven appeal to emotion. Trump is also deporting mothers and destroying families. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents seized an alleged victim of domestic violence and recently seized a woman with a brain tumor from the hospital where she was being treated. There’s little evidence that undocumented immigrants take American jobs, incomes or lives. There’s plenty of evidence that they create jobs (by reducing the cost of goods and services) and income (by contributing to the economy).
According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home — from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and, yes, even the World Trade Center.
But not from the seven countries on Trump’s “banned” list.
It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur. Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America — we cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.
The odds of your average American being killed by a terrorist attack committed by a refugee are astronomical — about one in 3.6 billion. Most radical Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe are perpetrated by the citizens of the countries attacked. American Muslims are an encouraging success story. One good way to turn that story around? Deploy guilt by association to marginalize and dehumanize them.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America’s taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.
The Associated Press says Trump has mischaracterized this report.
Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: It will save countless dollars, raise workers’ wages, and help struggling families — including immigrant families — enter the middle class.
It will also drive up the costs of services and goods like produce. It’s likely to leave fruit withering in fields.
The murder rate in 2015 experienced its largest single-year increase in nearly half a century.
This is highly deceptive. The murder rate saw its largest percentage increase in a half-century, but it was nowhere near the largest increase in raw numbers. And the reason the murder rate increased so much is because it has been in free fall for 20 years. Look at it this way: Let’s say that in Country X there were 20 total murders in 1994, and then 25 in 1995. The total then fell for the next two decades to just one murder in 2014, but then rose back up to two in 2015. What Trump is saying today is akin to saying that the murder increase in Country X from 2014 to 2015 was greater than from 1994 to 1995. As a percentage, he’s right. The 2015 jump was 100 percent. The 1995 jump was 20 percent. But that doesn’t paint a remotely accurate picture of what actually happened.
The murder rate did go up in 2015. In a handful of cities, it went up significantly. In most of the country, the increase was minor, or not at all. Nationally, it looked like a large percentage because the overall number of murders has fallen to such a small number.
In Chicago, more than 4,000 people were shot last year alone — and the murder rate so far this year has been even higher.
Chicago is a sad story. But as we’ve pointed out here before, you can make a strong argument that corruption and brutality within the city’s police department are big contributors to the violence. Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions want police to have even less oversight.
. . . we must work with — not against — the men and women of law enforcement. We must build bridges of cooperation and trust — not drive the wedge of disunity and division. Police and sheriffs are members of our community. They are friends and neighbors, they are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — and they leave behind loved ones every day who worry whether or not they’ll come home safe and sound. We must support the incredible men and women of law enforcement.
Blind support for law enforcement is no better than blanket criticism or distrust. It’s baffling to me how people with Trump’s or Sessions’s politics can understand the corruption of power and petty tyranny that infect bureaucracies, but advocate wholesale deference and reverence to the men and women to whom we give badges, guns and the power to terminate lives. Cops who risk their lives to save others deserve respect. Cops in general demand oversight. This is because (1) human beings are flawed, and (2) nothing exacerbates those flaws like giving one human being a gun plus power and authority over other human beings.
Back to Trump:
And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American Victims. The office is called VOICE — Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.
This is the most appalling part of the speech. Singling out perpetrators of crimes by their immigration status is no less abhorrent than singling them out by their race — which, of course, is what Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon used to do with the “black crime” tag at Breitbart. This sort of isolation and dehumanization is what authoritarians do to disfavored groups. It has a long and sordid history. It would be appalling even if undocumented immigrants were more prone to violent crime. But of course they aren’t, so in addition to being unabashedly bigoted, it’s also just ignorant. It’s about as useful as opening an office for victims of crimes committed by left-handed people. Or billionaires.
Trump next singled out the father of a man killed by an undocumented immigrant. This too is an ugly appeal to emotion that isn’t backed by any data. Yes, there are awful stories like this one. There are also awful stories of people who are murdered by members of just about any group or class you can conjure up.
Trump’s tribute to Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, has also been much discussed. Some pundits have called it the best moment of his presidency. I thought it was cheap and exploitative. There’s been much speculation about whether Trump prematurely ordered the raid that ended Owens’s life. I don’t know enough about military operations to have an opinion on that. But most military experts say that the raid was badly botched. The Trump administration responded to those criticisms by saying that anyone who questioned the raid’s success was doing a disservice to Owens. That approach became problematic when Owens’s own father began publicly questioning the raid.
In the past week, Trump has put the blame for it on both the military and on the Obama administration. So it seems odd for him to have touted its success Tuesday night. Trump’s claim that the raid produced valuable intelligence has also been hotly disputed. In short, Trump deflected the growing criticism of his handling of the raid by inviting the widow of the soldier who died in it to his speech, where he got to indirectly revel in the ovation Congress gave for her husband. He did this even as Owens’s father was demanding answers. It wasn’t presidential; it was crass score-settling.
It’s worth noting that Trump also called for substantial new spending on infrastructure. That isn’t exactly typical of a Republican these days. I suspect this is what’s driving at least some of the praise for his speech. But this has always been part of Trump’s agenda. It wasn’t an overture to the other side, it was merely confirmation that Trump’s raw nationalism doesn’t fall neatly along partisan lines. The fact that some of his agenda happens to overlap with some priorities of Democrats doesn’t make Trump statesmanlike or presidential. Nor does it dilute the deceit, egotism and shameless fear-mongering that infected the rest of his speech.
This speech was a nightmare. That Trump managed to dress up the same populist resentment in language more familiar and palatable to Beltway types makes him more dangerous, not less.