Wednesday, January 31, 2018

SOTU 2018, Part 1: National Unity


If one had no prior experience of Donald J. Trump—in particular, if one had paid no attention to anything he had said or done from the day before he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, until yesterday afternoon, January 30, 2018—then one could be forgiven for thinking that his State of the Union (SOTU) address last night was a fine example of rationality and patriotism in action, from a rational, caring man.

But since I doubt that many of my readers have been in a coma for over two and one-half years, not one of us has an excuse to think that. As one of the members of the “Pod Save America” podcast said on a rare live episode of CBS TV’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” broadcast soon after the State of the Union address had concluded, “I don’t know how you take a speech and divorce it from an entire year of actions.” I don’t, either. So, with the realities of the first year of the Trump Presidency in mind, let us look at one particular topic as addressed in the State of the Union speech.

Calls for National ‘Unity’

In the SOTU, Pres. Trump made much of his desire for national unity. But his actions suggest that he wants national unity by way of papering over his very real prejudices and the very real issues raised by race in America today:
  • Pres. Trump lionized a hero who flew support missions to rescue people from the recent hurricane-induced floods in Texas. However, he produced no such hero from the rescue of Puerto Rico, which endured massive damage in the same storms—because there were relatively few federal officers sent to PR. The entire federal response to Puerto Rico has been disgracefully poor. Over four months after the disaster, 20% of the population of Puerto Rico is still without electricity and has no running water—and yet FEMA is ceasing the distribution of water and food today. Of course, at the very time he initiated his presidential campaign, Trump stated that Mexicans in the United States were basically rapists and drug dealers. Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are the two largest groups of Hispanics in the United States—and Pres. Trump clearly does not care for them. By his actions, Pres. Trump is demonstrating that he has one way for dealing with people in a predominantly non-Hipanic White area, and another altogether for dealing with Hispanic people.
  • Pres. Trump pushed shows of respect for the American flag and national anthem almost to the point of religious reverence, pointedly saying that the proper way to show such respect for the latter is to stand while it is played. Of course, this was a pointed rebuke to the take-a-knee silent protests, associated with Colin Kaepernick, other African-American NFL players, and players of all races in several sports. The problem here is that these protests are made with reference to police violence directed against African-Americans—including the shooting of unarmed African-Americans—virtually without legal consequences. Trump made no reference to these problems, aside from saying that police officers deserve “unwavering support.” In other words, the well-expressed concerns of the African-American community regarding their very safety and survival are of no concern to Pres. Trump.
  • Pres. Trump made a point of saying that he wanted to support what he called “religious liberty.” But the context of the last year makes clear that what he wants to do is grant the right to people of faith to discriminate against others on supposedly religious grounds: no wedding cakes or flowers or pizza for gay couples, for example. So instead of really promoting unity—by taking the very reasonable position that religious liberty does not include the right for businesses to discriminate against anyone on religious grounds—the President is simply declaring that national unity, for him, does not include anyone of whom certain evangelical Americans disapprove. Forget you, LGBT folks.
  • As far as immigrants are concerned, in the SOTU, Pres. Trump essentially equated them with gang members such as those in MS-13. So immigrants are not really a part of the drive to national unity, either. Forget you too, immigrants.

Here’s the bad news for the President’s push for national unity. Hispanic-Americans, non-Hispanic African-Americans, LGBT people in the United States, and legal immigrants (making generous allowances for overlap) together comprise about 31% of the American population. This is sad news for a President who cares for very few if any of them. It is very sad news for America that this President does care very little for them. 

A notion of ‘national unity’ that leaves out almost a third of the population is simply not real unity at all. As the illustration above suggests, we need a unity with all our colors and differences to be truly On The Mark.

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(Copyright 2018 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)

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