The State of the Union was one strange speech. On the one hand, we heard echoes of Peggy Noonan’s speech writing, without the Ronald Reagan delivery. The Paeans for World War Two and the landing at Normandy were reminiscent of Reagan’s allusions. With a better deliverer, they may have even been inspirational. This is what made Reagan the great communicator. He conveyed those lines flawlessly.
There is another great disconnect. While President Donald Trump spoke of World War Two, which saved western civilization itself, he is busy dismantling the world order that war, and its aftermath, created. While he does that, he pats himself on the back for doing things that his predecessor started. No, NATO did not agree to pay more when Trump came into office. That happened in 2014.
He also addressed the focused on the Tree of Life Synagogue, while ignoring that the perpetrator was a far right-wing white supremacist. Then proceeded to speak of the dystopia on the southern border that inspired the shooter.
There is no irony left. While Trump referenced the attack, he turned to the language that inspired the crime. It is the same rhetoric that is leading to a sharp increase in hate crimes across the nation.
A president seeking unity would have addressed that matter, and perhaps pointed out that the attacker at the Tree of Life Synagogue, or the man who killed to African-American people in Kentucky the same week, were animated by racist hate. He could address the panoply of incidents posted on social media, showing people attacking others for speaking a foreign language, or looking Mexican.
Instead, the president embarked on a series of lies regarding immigration and a noncrisis at the border. He even told a few major fibs. El Paso’s drop in crime, like the rest of the nation, did not have a thing to do with the border wall. The El Paso Times looked at the Uniform Crime Reporting Data maintained by the FBI. To those familiar with the subject what they found was hardly surprising. Crime peaked in El Paso in 1993. Nationwide that was 1994. The wall started construction in 2006, and there was a slight increase in crime after that. The wall had no effect on crime rates.
We know that crime rates dropped nationwide after 1994. There are many theories as to why. They range from broken windows policing, the favorite among law enforcement, to lead no longer being present in gasoline. The latter has to do with how the developing brain is affected by this heavy metal, and we should have alarm bells going in all our heads given that lead is now increasingly present in urban water systems due to aging infrastructure, not just at Flint Michigan.
The way that lead works is that it damages the brains of young children. This leads to increased rates of Attention Deficit Disorder and other issues. And as a nation, repairing these systems should be a top priority. Also, fun fact, one reason for the collapse of Rome was lead in the water system. So, are we looking at a crime wave in the near future? Incidentally, the president did mention, in passing, an infrastructure bill. I don’t expect that to happen, but fixing water systems nationwide should be a priority. For the sake of justice, the feds should declare some of these cities, not just Flint, Federal Emergency areas, freeing up funds to do what is needed.
Which brings me back to the border. Immigration from the southern border, the kind that scares his base, is at a forty plus year low. We have no emergency. However, this language plays well with them. And it does especially well in very specific districts Trump needs to win a second term. So that is why he is stuck on building a wall. Those districts are nowhere near the border with Mexico. They are closer to Canada, in fact, and they are mostly white and rural. Yes, it is time we have that conversation as well. A lot of this is deep racism speaking, and we have seen that in the past. The 1924 Immigration Act was meant to control the flow of people from Eastern and Southern Europe. At the time Americans dreaded they were going to take away their jobs, and that they were criminals that would never become good Americans. In fact, we were losing control of our border! Sounds familiar? Their descendants are the ones dismayed by the brown menace from the South. If there is irony in history, this is a textbook example.
This is who he was aiming when he said the country would never be socialist, and when he spoke of abortion at term. He was playing to his base and all facts contrary to that, are just that, facts that do not matter. His base believes the southern border is a dystopia, and that liberals want to kill newly born babies. Oh never mind that a baby born missing the brain will survive, at best, hours outside the womb.
However, the evangelicals who go crazy for this do not understand either medical ethics, or medicine itself. No doctor would willfully kill a newborn child who is healthy. Nor is the law passed by the New York legislature allow for this. I quote the legislation:
an abortion May be performed by a
licensed, certified, or authorized practitioner within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient’s life or health.
Within 24 weeks is within five months of pregnancy and it allows for severe medical issues with the developing baby. Some of these are not compatible with life. They include a baby developing without a brain, as I wrote above. Those babies usually have a brain stem and will have a heartbeat, as part of the autonomic reflexes. Otherwise, those babies do die within hours of being born. Some parents, when the life of the mother is not at risk, decide to carry to term. They stay with the baby until the baby dies, and then donate the organs to babies that need them. It is a way to make sense of a tragedy.
In some cases, the pregnancy itself puts the life of the mother at great risk, and some moms will develop eclampsia, which could kill them. This is not a choice that mothers look forward to. However, the evangelical right has chosen to use these rare cases as a rallying cry. They do not understand the medico-legal issues involved or for that matter the religious ethics at play. For example, under Jewish religious law, the life of the mother takes precedence, since the mother can become pregnant again. The loss of both the mother and child is not preferable, and in fact, could be seen as a sin.
There are conditions in which even the Catholic Conference of Bishops agrees with this stance. In effect, eclampsia may fall into this list or a few other conditions that could kill the mother.
Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child (no. 47).
You can read where more than a few religious doctrines stand on this matter, in the Pew Research Fact tank. It is a matter that should be best between a woman, her god and her doctor. And the decision is not easy. However, the stance of no abortion under any circumstances is an outlier in both ethics and religious doctrine. And it is that outlier that Trump knows is part of his base that he was addressing in that part of the SOTU.
Then there is his call for bipartisanship, that literally was confined to the two hours, around the SOTU. He literally was attacking Chuck Schumer hours before, and he was back on attack mode the next morning,
However, he had a very Nixonian moment as well. When he called for a halt of all investigations, for the sake of good government. Richard Nixon did the same in his last State of the Union, where he tried to stop the Watergate investigation. Trump knows that oversight is about to happen. He fears it, since, as David Cay Johnson has pointed out, Trump is quite shady. He has run his business skirting the edges of the law all his life, and now he is under a magnifying glass.
It is not just Congress, the Southern District of New York has opened a few lines of investigation. And unlike the Mueller team, they have no limits in their mandate. They are also experts in white-collar crime.
Buckle up, this ride is about to get quite bumpy.