TUCSON – Just to be clear, again, these Mort Reports are analysis, not opinion. This is not a blog but rather a series of dispatches from an old-crocodile correspondent who relies on what he sees watching the world at firsthand.
That said, after 50 years of covering self-enraptured authoritarians from Katanga to the Kremlin, I do not remember a more cynical twisting of reality and manipulation of emotions than Donald Trump’s first State of the Union.
Of course, some demagogues are stone-cold killers, and Trump is not. But none that I recall has been so hypocritical about his or her hypocrisy. Trump’s self-inflation, in my own experience, is in a class all its own.
In a big finish, he read off the teleprompter speechwriters’ words that should be true:
“As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will never fail. Our families will thrive. Our people will prosper, and our nation will forever be safe and strong, and proud, and mighty, and free.”
But the elected legislators who responded with that jingoistic chant, “USA, USA, USA,” have spent the past year helping Trump do the polar opposite: divide the nation, curtail freedoms, alienate us from others, and hasten climatic chaos that imperils humanity.
NPR, among others, has done a thorough job of flagging a multitude of distortions, of taking credit for others’ successes, and outright lies. But the worst part was a warped worldview that exponentially deepens the dangers America faces – and poses.
Trump blames the Other, singling out MS-13, perhaps 50,000 members in all who traffic in drugs and prostitutes because there is a thriving domestic market. That is a fragment of a complex crisis fed by growing inequality and whipped-up by modern-day Know Nothings.
His stage-prop crime victims tugged at heartstrings. But neither a Wall nor a border force can keep out all evildoers. Their isolated incidents pale in comparison to repeated carnage by homegrown killers armed, legally, to the eyeballs.
He exhorted citizens to honor veterans who suffer under our flag, which, of course, they should. But he neglected to say why they are sent into needless, unwinnable wars for the profit of a tiny fringe and the suffering of millions who react as any humans would. America creates far more terrorists than it kills.
The candidate who prescribed “sneak attacks” on Mosul and Raqqa because he knows more than the generals now as president claims credit for wiping out ISIS, forgetting the Iraqis, Kurds and others who did so much of the job, house by house.
ISIS is not wiped out. It has morphed into something indefinable, with lone-wolf sympathizers and shadowy offshoot militias far beyond Iraq that recruit easily among the millions of desperate refugees in whose faces Trump slams the door.
The immigration policy he defines is more like a series of job interviews. What can people who desperately need help do for us? And yet Russian mobsters come in the front door simply by investing $500,000 in real estate deals.
He said nothing about the Russians, who U.S. intelligence services confirm meddled directly in elections. Trump, we just learned, tried to fire Robert Mueller, who is trying to ferret out facts. Comforting the enemy is treason.
His throwaway lines are troubling. Cabinet secretaries now have authority to fire people on their staffs who are not doing their jobs. That is, honest civil servants who reveal their bosses’ betrayal of public trust will have no hearing.
Regulatory processes will be streamlined. That means polluting industries can elude essential scrutiny to protect the nation’s health and natural resources.
He promises to repair infrastructure and public works, but his emphasis is on roads, highways and bridges, with only a passing mention of railways. He is promoting fossil fuels along with (as if there were such a thing) clean coal.
His main boast is about a stock market that was already rallying after Barack Obama cleaned up George W. Bush’s mess. Euphoria did the rest. Wait until Wile E. Coyote looks down. The Dow lost 500 points in the past two days, and the world is readjusting trade patterns.
The list is far too long to cover. But look at his glorification of Guantanamo. If anything crystallizes global feelings against a society so many used to admire, it is inhumanity to people arbitrarily punished indefinitely with no evidence of guilt.
Terrorists need to face justice if they are terrorists. In Afghanistan, I have seen suspects rounded up by inexperienced U.S. forces on broad sweeps or on the say-so of neighbors with personal motives.
Trump hammered away at his usual theme. America needs to pour yet more money into defense. We have enough nukes to pulverize three planets. It is not about brute force. As we learned in Vietnam, grabbing people by the balls does not win their hearts and minds.
Trump said it flatly: Foreign aid will be restricted to governments that support our policies, not to people who need it most. Development assistance is not to rent friends. It is to help stabilize the world – and to do the right thing.
The United Nations, which Trump casts as the enemy, is only a forum of 193 independent nations, not an organization that is for or against America. All but a few of Washington’s client states oppose his policy on Israel and Palestine.
Does he really believe that stopping $30 billion in aid – miserly compared to Nordic states that give 10 times more per capita and expect nothing in return – will do anything other than make more people loathe his version of America?
Listen carefully to the speech, and watch Trump’s face as he delivers it. Then read it along with NPR’s fact-check commentary. He is in a state of delusion. And given the world as it is today, that is dangerous beyond any description.