Donald Trump gave his joint session speech last night, and here’s what I will say about it: Trump managed to go a whole hour without saying “believe me,” or “bigly” or offering asides on his own speech as if he were reading it for the first time while delivering it. He avoided most of his annoying Trump idiosyncrasies, he did not talk about how many electoral votes he received; he did not mention Hillary Clinton; and he managed not to directly insult anyone.
For Trump, it was the least embarrassing speech he has ever delivered simply by virtue of the fact that he didn’t say anything egregiously upsetting. And the White House is riding high on this speech this morning, and though Trump has not (as of this writing) began tweeting, my guess is that he’ll Tweet about how great he was in his speech, and probably offer a positive assessment from the (failing) NYTimes to illustrate it. Best case scenario: He discovers what a positive feedback loop feels like and he continues to do things that aren’t completely embarrassing because he enjoys going 12 hours without being ridiculed by the press. Maybe he will even alter his agenda to curry favor with the public, because a morning without horrible headlines feels good to him.
That’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that someone within the White House will f*ck something up later today, and Trump will say something moronic or insulting, and he’ll get trapped in another negative feedback loop he’ll be unable to escape until his next State of the Union speech.
But let’s not let the fact that Donald Trump didn’t drool all over himself distract us from the content of his speech. The fact that he was able to deliver the same message he has been delivering for the past year and a half using milder language is actually pretty dangerous, because he’s made his “America First” agenda more palatable to the masses. That entire section on immigration was just a very nice way of saying: We need to put white people first. “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America,” is just another way of saying: “American-born white people are the priority, and everyone else can go screw.”
“What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income or their loved one, because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?” is a more acceptable form of, “Brown people are taking yer jerbs”.
Trump did not back away from the travel ban. He did not back away from the Wall. He continued to push a repeal of Obamacare, and while he began the speech by condemning those responsible for the JCC bomb threats — “We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms” — he did not say, “It’s not OK to attack Jews,” and he specifically did not say, “We stand with minority religious groups who are being persecuted.” In fact, he ended the speech by saying that we all came from the same God, and he no doubt meant “the Christian God.”
In the parlance of Sarah Palin, Trump put a bright shade of lipstick on the same ugly pig. By using milder language, he was better able to sell his agenda of hate, and that’s what’s most frightening. The man wants to remake America as a less diverse country and when he says he wants to promote the ideals of “America,” what he means are those ideals of conservative white America.
I will give him this, though: He gave Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, a minute in the spotlight. Some may call it exploiting the grief of a widow, but that was exactly the kind of move that past Presidents have pulled off in their State of the Union speeches. It was a nice moment for Carryn Owens, too, and a woman who lost her husband in military action deserves that moment. It’s just too bad that even that moment was shrouded in a lie. Katy Tur said it best:
What the President did w Owen's widow was capital P Presidential. It was the single most extraordinary moment I've seen from Trump - by far.— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) March 1, 2017
*BUT* remember that moment came after Trump seemed to blame his generals/Obama for Owen's death this morning.— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) March 1, 2017
And NBC News exclusive reporting: senior intelligence sources dispute WH characterization of raid as success. No significant intel *yet.*— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) March 1, 2017
… Which would mean that Trump isn't being honest with a grieving wife. And that is anything BUT presidential.— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) March 1, 2017
It’s not just that, either: He gave Carryn Owens the spotlight not 12 hours after throwing his own generals under the bus, blaming them for a raid that President Obama specifically declined to pursue instead of being a goddamn President and reminding America of where the buck stops.
What I’m saying is: This President Trump — the guy who gave that speech last night — he’s scarier than unhinged President Trump, because this President Trump is basically Mike Pence: A milder, more palatable white supremacist who has a better shot at pushing through an agenda of hate. Personally, I prefer the guy who embarrasses himself every other hour. However, to the degree that Trump managed to obscure his nationalist agenda, it’s hard not to call the speech a success for an administration that wants the percentage of white people who vote in elections to increase. And it’s that success that is most troubling.