Hanging over the speech is Trump’s insistence that there is a crisis of illegal immigration at the border that is threatening national security, although undocumented immigrants commit fewer violent crimes than native-born Americans. Still, Trump is definitely going to focus on his claims of a persistent risk to public safety when he talks about Nevada couple Gerald and Sharon David, who were killed in their home last month, allegedly by an illegal immigrant. The couple’s daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter are all attending the speech.
In contrast, several Democrats have invited immigrants hurt by Trump’s hard-line approach to immigration, including a mother who was separated at the border from her children because of the administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” that detained any person seeking to cross the border, even those declaring asylum at legal ports of entry.
Trump will also highlight two of his legislative achievements: passage of a criminal justice bill that allows for early release of low-level offenders, and a package of programs and policies meant to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic. He has invited Matthew Charles, sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine and other related offenses in 1996. Charles was released in early January, thanks to the new law. Trump also invited Ashley Evans, an Ohio woman in recovery from opioid abuse.
Two of the worst shootings in the United States in 2018 will be represented, but the guests are meant to convey two different messages.
Trump invited an elderly Jewish man who survived the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Timothy Matson, a police officer who responded to the scene and suffered gunshot wounds saving lives, will also be in attendance. But if Trump brings up gun violence at all, expect it to be focused on problems with mental health care in the United States, not access to firearms.
Democrats have invited people affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., including a student survivor turned anti-gun-violence activist and a father who lost his son in the massacre.
What’s more likely is that Trump will use the synagogue shooting to bring up anti-Semitism or hate crimes generally, a topic he’s been criticized for not coming out forcefully enough against. He’s even been accused of fanning the flames.
To that end, Trump is going to talk about divisiveness in U.S. politics as an ill. He’s invited a young boy who shares his last name and who has been subjected to bullying at school because of it. What singling out this boy does is allow Trump to show that it’s not just his supporters with animus.
But this strategy could backfire by drawing more attention to how Trump’s language and personal attacks have coarsened discourse.