State of the Union: Trump knows how to read
Make no mistake: Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. The State of the Union address was one many expected to mark a continued pattern of deranged ramblings in public appearances, yet what we saw was very different. Namely, Trump stuck to the teleprompter. The speech shared little rhetorically with Trump's usual Twitter outbursts and hyperbolic attacks. It was undoubtedly written by his team of advisors, some of whom are competent enough to construct coherent English sentences unlike the President. Trump's signature off-script quips of "terrible" and "carnage" were nowhere to be found.
And yet, the terrible policies behind his typical insultingly simplistic language remained. He spoke of the need for a southern border wall and reinforced his apparent unwillingness to negotiate on immigration, despite empty calls for bipartisanship that he has in days since thrown to the wayside. Noticeably absent were calls for the border wall to be paid for by Mexico. While nothing has changed on Mexico's position on the matter — they have repeatedly, remarked that they will never pay for such a preposterous wall — Trump's personal position remains unchanged. In opportunities where Trump gets to speak freely, he still insists Mexico will pay. This notion is just as absurd now as it was when he first introduced the idea years ago and so too is Trump himself.
So, Trump's tendency to completely fabricate statistics that aid his position continued. Has unemployment been going down? Yes. Is it the lowest it has been since the market crash of 2008? Also yes. But, just as Republicans attempted to shift the blame for the 2008 financial crisis from Bush to Obama, they also now seek to take credit for Obama's economic successes. Trump claimed that "since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number is actually 1.8 million. Moreover, that is the slowest rate of jobs growth since 2010. So no, the impact of their controversial tax cut bill has not been instant and it is certainly not responsible for the continued improvement of the economy.
Perhaps the most egregious example of Trump's statistical cherry-picking comes in the form of African American employment. During the campaign, Trump falsely claimed that 58 percent of young African Americans were unemployed. In truth, the number was actually 19 percent as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, Trump not only accepts these statistics but claims that he is responsible for the change. The overall rate of African American unemployment was 7.7 percent when Trump entered the office and has only since fallen 0.9 percent. This suggests not that Trump has had a positive impact on the rate of African American employment, but rather that rate has so far been unaffected by his policies. Given Secretary of Education Betsy Devos' well-documented attempts to undermine the public school system under Trump's appointment, it would not be surprising to see the rate of African American unemployment soon start to increase.
During the 2016 election, the stock market was a giant bubble waiting to burst according to Trump. Now, he boasts about the soaring market and how substantive an impact his policies have had on it. (I know what you're thinking: what policies?) He claims the majority of tax cut benefits will go to the middle class when in truth they will disproportionately aid families earning more than $200,000 per year. As usual, Trump's truth is a lie.
So what should we take away from the State of the Union? Exactly what we should have taken away the moment Trump announced his candidacy: facts have no place in Trump's world. What I believe to be more important is the impact he has had in his first year in the Republican party. The GOP has been perpetuating half-truths and falsehoods regularly for decades now. They were and are often called out for it by the news media and the public. The difference is that now they feel invincible. Trump has shown that one can invent an entirely fictional reality to operate in and still be successful politically. Perhaps it is his celebrity status that gives him that power. It most certainly has to do with the color of his skin and his gender. But, it is important to remember that the Republican party also has the power to do the right thing.
The only Republicans calling Trump out are not running for reelection. While the understanding persists that standing against Trump as an elected or running Republican is electorally irresponsible, so too should the "decency" that representatives, like Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), love to preach. Republicans like Flake have nothing to lose. But, the United States has everything to lose. If the Republican party steers deeper and deeper into being a legislative vehicle for Trump, they jeopardize the federalist system established under the Constitution and the objective reality that we live in. If facts can be debated and if Senators can be unilaterally swung to serve the ludicrous wishes of the President, then we risk the democratic republic under which we all live.