Populating, if not dominating, President Donald Trump’s 90-minute or more State of the Union speech Tuesday evening were a number of ordinary Americans who did extraordinary things.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, firefighter David Dahlberg, manufacturers Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, 12-year-old Preston Sharp who placed flags on veterans’ graves, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez, police officer Ryan Holets and his wife, Rebecca, Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck and Ji Seong-ho are a few of those in attendance and singled out by Trump, all of whom have exceeded his false claims and contributed beyond the call of duty to the nation’s legacy of sacrifice and goodwill.
Trump also brought the Republicans and Democrats to their feet—as expected the Republicans got the lion’s share of exercise on the long evening—with a recounting of Otto Warmbier’s plight after being arrested in North Korea and his later death. Warmbier’s parents and other relatives were asked to stand. It’s not unusual for a president to have a number of folks to salute at the State of the Union address, but Trump, as is his wont, took it to another level, another level of distraction from all the things he lied about or failed to mention.
Most egregious was his summary of immigration by recalling an incident in which members of gang MS-13, “unaccompanied alien minors,” have been charged with the murders of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenagers from Long Island in 2016. This statement was Trump’s way of fortifying his stance on immigration and a need to build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out of the country, or to justify their deportation.
It was a terrible but useful example for Trump to make his point, while offering none for the many undocumented immigrants who have done no wrong and aided the nation’s growth and development. (And Trump should know that these undocumented aliens, on average, commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.)
Once again Trump talked about the need to improve America’s infrastructure, repeating a failed promise to apply $1 trillion to refurbishing the bridges, rail systems and the crumbling cities.
At least he mentioned infrastructure, unlike his neglect of climate change and global warming, the Russian investigation or sexual harassment, something he dare not touch.
He only mentioned African-Americans once, and that was to note that their unemployment rate was at the lowest ever recorded. But, like so many of his claims and exaggerations, this one needs further context. That rate has been declining for several years now, most dramatically during President Obama’s tenure.
Residents in Detroit must have “woke” all the way up when Trump cited how well the automobile industry is doing there, particularly the notice that new plants are springing up there and around the country. This statement, too, cries out for contexture, and in fact, more plants are closing than opening.
Along with “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s book that takes the president and his administration to task, we can add this State of the Union and its sound and fury that in the end signifies very little. Instead of a State of the Union address, we have a stake in the union, driven right into the heart of our quest for true democracy.
In the next day or so, if not sooner, the troll and his Twitter will put all his bluster about a need for unity in the rear view mirror, and we would be better off paying attention to the message from the recent People’s State of the Union—continue to resist his authoritarian impulses and take your anger to the polls on Nov. 6.