It was subtle, but Trump was as divisive as ever at State of the Union

by David W. Shelton

Analyzing the State of the Union speech is a challenge for anyone, but there's so much to discuss from last night's event.

For the first five minutes, it was pure brilliance. Once I stopped trying to listen to what he was saying (his oration skills are still terrible — George W. Bush could teach him a few things), and stuck to reading the closed captions, I could follow along.

But yes, the first five minutes were nothing short of stellar. A unifying message that was uplifting, encouraging, and hopeful.

Then, it was this line: "In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is 'in God we trust.'"

This line signaled a major shift in tone. This was pure Steven Miller. Throw red meat to the base, and keep it going, pile after pile.

To his base, this isn't a unifying message. This is a clear signal: If you don't like the motto, tough! HIs body language was exactly that, as well. Stern, forceful, and "don't you dare disagree."

More on this later.

The people he honored were all very well-deserving of their recognition. From a 12-year-old who worked to place 40,000 flags on the graves of veterans to Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck, who risked his life for fellow soldiers. Peck won a Bronze Star for valor. What an absolute honor it was for him.

He deserved every bit of that standing ovation. He was clearly uncomfortable. That level of humility is what made him so worthy of the recognition.

From there, he segued right into a poke at Obama, by declaring that the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay will remain open.

It was a jarring jump - from honoring a stellar soldier to bragging about Gitmo? Come on, Donald. That's beneath even you.

The President's body language was purely fascinating. From stepping back and to the side of the podium as he soaked in the applause from one side of the chamber to gesturing to Democrats to stand up despite their very obvious non-plussed attitude at his message.

Trump's invoking of the national motto (changed in the 1950s from "e Pluribus Unum/Out of Many, One") was just part of the red meat in that paragraph. The rest of it was before that:

"Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston's reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem."

This got a huge reply of applause from one side of the aisle, with Fox News and multiple right-wing media outlets damning Democrats for not standing and applauding for this line.

Trump knows that his supporters have a religious-like devotion to the national anthem and the flag. He clearly has no comprehension that people who protest the flag or the anthem are EVERY BIT AS AMERICAN as someone who flies it proudly. There are large sections of our population for whom these symbols are meaningless.

Trump does not comprehend (and neither do many of his supporters) that protesting by not standing or saluting is not about the flag or the anthem; it's about the fact that their lives are impacted by racism, fear, homophobia and transphobia. It's about the fact that millions are genuinely left behind as they're berated by the "patriotic" crowd.

Trump's message here is clear: Be patriotic our way, or get out.

Hardly a unifying message.

His mention of "religious liberty" is a clear nod to the religious right, currently locked in battle on whether or not they should treat LGBTQ people with respect and dignity in business transactions. The Supreme Court has a major case pending that addresses exactly that. A ruling is expected later this year.

He made a claim that American manufacturing is ramping up. Never mind the fact that LG is building a billion dollar plant right here in Clarksville. Trump rewarded LG for that by slapping massive tariffs on the company. As a result, they're likely to not have the new plant up to speed as soon as originally planned. This is the exact tone-deafness that we've come to expect from this president.

Another area where he excelled was talking about infrastructure:

"Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit."

Funny how he didn't mention American steel. That's a pretty glaring omission.

Streamlining the process is an excellent idea, but I'm concerned that some critical studies on certain road projects need to be done, especially environmental impacts.

Then he parked on immigration. By prominently talking about the MS-13 gang, he implied that all undocumented immigrants are evil. I felt awful for the family he paraded during this segment. Did they know they would be pawns in his quest for a wall?

"Because Americans are dreamers too."

Then back to MS-13. We arrested hundreds! More than half were gang bangers!

It's clear that he sees all undocumented as vile. It's pure Miller-esque red meat, and plays to the crowd. And yes, he brought up The Wall.

Anyone who's ever dealt with the immigration process knows how convoluted it is, and how difficult it is to get through the process. It's restrictive, and damned near impossible to navigate.

And he wants to make it even more difficult. We are the greatest nation in the world, and people want to come here to make a better life for them and their families.

Frankly, if he had his way, I'm surprised he doesn't support exchanging Lady Liberty's torch for a giant middle finger.

He didn't share many details about North Korea, other than talking about how bad Kim Jong Un is, and honoring a defector who went through extreme hardship to get free of that regime.

This was not a message of unity. Trump only talked to one side of the room, and rarely to the other unless it was to gesture.

He was talking to his base. And they absolutely loved it.

As for the rest of us... the message as clear: Hang on, this is gonna be a hell of a ride.

Let's just hope it's not a ride straight into the very wall he wants us to build for him.




David W. Shelton is a Clarksville-based business owner, writer, graphic designer, and activist. His blog can be found at Photo via The New Yorker

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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