I did not watch Donald Trump’s speech last night but the reviews of it were so scathing that I decided to see for myself, helped by the fact that it was less that 10 minutes long and I felt I could stomach it. So I did and my reaction was that he looked like a person who knows he is in a bad situation and does not know how to get out. Trump’s strategy in the face of bad news is distraction and deflection. He could always create some new issue by saying something idiotic or making a stupid suggestion that he had no intention of carrying out, and the media would scurry after it. But there can be no deflection from the government shutdown. There is nothing he can do that is going to prevent an ever-increasing crescendo of attention to the fact that the government is grinding to a halt. I thought that he might throw a Hail Mary pass and declare a national emergency as a distraction but he didn’t.
Trump faces the situation that all hostage takers face, the realization that things are going to end badly for them unless they give up. Trump hates to look like a loser but his whole speech, and the comments he made off-the-record to news anchors that he felt that this speech and his planned photo-op to the border tomorrow won’t change things, indicate that he knows he is in bad shape. The problem for Trump is that he made the wall the central feature of all his speeches during the 2018 election campaign, whipping up all manner of fear at his rallies over the migrant caravan, and yet his party got trounced in the congressional elections. What worked for him in 2016 failed miserably this time around.
Here’s the speech and you can see for yourself.
It was really quite a pathetic effort on his part. When he reads off a Teleprompter script and does not have an audience to riff off of he looks stiff and uncomfortable. He tried his hardest to make the case that the lack of a wall is something that would hurt all of us without saying how. There seemed to be an attempt to pre-emptively deflect charges of racism by claiming that the hardest hit would be African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. He repeated the sad claim that the wall would pay for itself and from the benefits of the trade deal which indicates that the repeated reminders of his boast that Mexico would pay for the wall is hurting him, and he blamed Democrats for the shutdown. He blamed immigrants for bringing in drugs and committing assaults, sex crimes, killings. The worst part was the last third where went into gruesome descriptions of killings by immigrants to imply that we are all in great danger of death at any moment at their hands. This part of the speech was pure undiluted racist demagoguery.
In their response, the two Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gave him no cause for optimism that they were going to allow him a face-saving option, though I thought his whole speech seemed to be a plea for one.
They reminded him of his promise that Mexico would pay for the wall and dismissively referred to his shutdown as a ‘temper tantrum’ to get his way and that there was no excuse for hurting millions of Americans over a policy difference. They called for separating border security discussions from funding the government.
As I said, the reactions to the speech were brutal, with a tweet one of the Democratic leaders in congress Hakeem Jeffries being particularly sharp and dsimissive.
Bernie Sanders was also scathing, saying “It gives me no pleasure to tell you what most of you already know. President Trump lies all of the time – and in his remarks tonight, and in recent weeks regarding immigration and the wall, he continues to lie.”
Perhaps the best response to the wall idea comes from Adam Conover from the show Adam Ruins Everything from way back in 2016 where he explains why Trump’s wall is a bad idea. Maybe someone could persuade Trump to watch this clip. But Trump is driven by racism and reason is of little use against him.