The Wall and abortion. That was the red meat President Trump made sure to deliver during his lengthy State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
The rest was an airy soufflé of nothing much. Trump offered little in the way of policy meat, vaguely addressing infrastructure, paid family leave, and a cure for AIDS. In a series of calculated shout-outs, he paid homage to veterans, unjustly jailed prisoners, Holocaust survivors, assorted victims of violence, and a child with brain cancer. Their stories are worthy of recognition, and trigger legitimate empathy. But they collapsed under the weight of Trump’s true mission.
He described it as the choice “between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.” The only thing that could stop his vision of greatness, he said, “are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations.” Despite that highly political and partisan jibe at Robert Mueller’s ongoing inquiry, he framed his pitch as an appeal for Washington to work together for the country, not for any political party.
But at heart, it was just an early start on selling his base on more Trump in 2020. Which comes down to more division, not less.
That means talking about immigration as an urgent national crisis, replete with images of caravans of illegal immigrants heading our way. Never mind that the threat of caravans is vastly overstated, as The New York Times reported in a piece fact-checking various Trump State of the Union pronouncements.
Trump also expressed concerns about a great divide. Not the one he creates by smearing all those seeking access to America as criminals to be feared, but the one he conjured up between American’s working class and its political class. As he put it, “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders, while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.” Meanwhile, he said, working-class Americans “pay the price for mass illegal immigration” via reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.
He also waved high the antiabortion flag, claiming that “lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” The New York Times fact-checked that as misleading, too, noting that last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a new law that ensures a woman’s right to abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned. “It does not broadly allow abortions until shortly before birth,” the Times said. It allows for an abortion after 24 weeks to protect the mother’s health or if the fetus is not viable.
But Trump never lets the facts get in the way of a good campaign rally cry — whether it’s in a stadium packed with supporters or before a joint session of Congress. He will keep pushing those buttons in the days ahead.
Forget the souffle. He will keep the red meat coming.Joan Vennochi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.