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State of the Union: A Preview, and a Reality Check

Tonight, President Donald Trump will be giving his State of the Union Address and essentially be using this speech as the introductory infomercial for his 2020 reelection campaign. Considering everything he’s done during his first two years in office, including everything he’s done in just the past two months, today is a good day for us to mute the volume on Trump’s usual bluster and examine the reality behind his rhetoric.

No really, let’s take a closer look at the real state of the union.

“The system is rigged”, and it’s being rigged by Trump.
Photo by Andrew Davey

When all else fails, Trump trumpets the overall strength of the economy to bolster his image. During his 2016 campaign, Trump often complained about “the rigged system” and had his supporters believe he’d do something about the system being rigged against them rather than just whine about how no one allegedly “treats him fairly”. Then in his first year in office, Trump pointed to the equity market as proof that his “Make America Great Again” agenda was succeeding.

Even as the market turned volatile last year, Trump continued to tout GDP growth and low unemployment as proof that his policies are working. But as we examined last week, just because the overall economy looks good doesn’t mean it’s working for everyone. Wage growth continues to lag, and low-wage workers are seeing little to no benefit from “Trump-onomics”.

What makes this even more startling is that this glaring reality of deepening inequality stands in stark contrast to Trump’s “populist” rhetoric. To date, one of the most ambitious items in Trump’s agenda has been his ongoing efforts to sabotage and tear down the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare) that provided a number of structural improvements to America’s health care system, from Medicaid expansion to consumer protections. And to date, Trump’s greatest legislative achievement has been his tax plan, which only “rigs the system” further in favor of the rich and powerful when most Americans instead want a more equitable tax system.

“Drain the swamp”? Actually, the swamp looks fuller than ever.

Photo by Andrew Davey

During his 2016 campaign, Trump also promised to “drain the swamp” and take on systemic corruption in our political system. Yet since he took office, Trump’s administration has become a rather vast swamp of corruption. Just this week, Trump announced oil industry lobbyist turned Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt as his nominee to succeed Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary. Zinke himself left office amidst a growing controversy over his conflicts of interest, and Bernhardt’s long history for lobbying for the very fossil fuel companies and other special interest groups that do business with the Interior Department suggests we can only expect a bigger ethical swamp when it comes to stewardship (or is it selling off?) of the nation’s public lands.

Bernhardt, Zinke, and Interior are far from an isolated incident: A ProPublica investigation revealed that at least 187 Trump administration appointees are former lobbyists, at least 254 Trump 2016 campaign staffers are now on the federal government’s payroll, and at least 60 Trump appointees have come from the Koch Brothers’ political network and right-wing powerhouse influencer Heritage Foundation.

It’s easy to be gobsmacked by this or that scandal involving a Trump administration official misusing taxpayer dollars for personal luxuries, but it’s important to examine the bigger picture of the entire Trump White House misusing the federal government for personal gain. Whether it’s Trump using the government to expand his business empire, Trump using the recent (partial federal) government shutdown to slow down one of the lawsuits challenging such misuse of the government to build his private business, or Trump railing against undocumented immigration while his own company hired undocumented workers, there are far too many counterpoints to debunk Trump’s original point of his promise to “drain the swamp”.

Some final notes on “unity” and “walls”
Photo by Andrew Davey

On that last counterpoint above, The New York Times began reporting on the Trump Organization’s extensive use of undocumented labor at its properties late last year, followed by The Washington Post taking a closer look at the Trump Organization purging these workers from its payrolls only after The Times exposed this glaring hypocrisy. Victorina Morales, the former Trump National Golf Club housekeeper who made Donald Trump’s bed and cleaned his private Bedminster, New Jersey, villa while he viciously slandered other immigrant families, will see Trump in person again tonight thanks to an invitation by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) to attend the State of the Union as her official guest.

Meanwhile, Trump himself has invited three family members of a Reno couple who were murdered last month as his guests in his latest effort to conflate this and other very real tragedies with his false assertions about immigration and crime. It’s also a signal that Trump will use tonight’s address to rally support for his long-desired border wall that’s currently built on fantasy, fiction, and fever dreams. Yet when it comes to real security threats affecting millions of real people, such as gun violence and climate change, Trump likely won’t mention them at all.

In advance of tonight’s main event, White House officials are claiming Trump’s address will focus on “unity amidst divided government”. This comes on the heels of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, and it comes as Trump himself has been threatening to declare a national emergency to raid federal budget accounts for border wall money while dismissing the bipartisan Congressional panel who are trying to craft a “border security deal” to avert another shutdown from happening next week. Perhaps Trump will somehow defy expectations and surprise us with proposals that offer the potential of real unity. But considering Trump’s track record these past two years, it’s more likely the state of the union will remain very fractious and frayed.

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