On Tuesday night, President Trump went before Congress to deliver an address to the American people. It capped off a day during which Trump courted controversy by blaming the military for a botched raid in Yemen and suggesting that Jews were committing their own acts of anti-Semitism to make him look bad. But in a classic demonstration of the 24-hour news cycle’s short attention span, all was forgiven when Trump stuck to script and delivered a serviceable speech.
Pundits marveled at Trump’s sudden presidential poise. Even left-wing commentators praised the speech. Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks declared it Trump’s best. On CNN, Van Jones said Trump “became president” when he honored the widow of a slain Navy SEAL and warned liberals, “If he finds a way to do that over and over again, he’s going to be there for eight years.”
The warning is more interesting than the praise. Trump’s presidential moment serves as a reminder of the media’s fickleness. Simply by proving he can read – a fact that had been in pretty serious doubt – Trump completely turned around a news cycle. But even a dog can shake hands. If all Trump has to do to win media praise is occasionally dial his inflammatory rhetoric down a notch, his brand of authoritarian nationalism will quickly become normalized.
Trump’s speech, while demonstrating more restraint than usual, still amounted to a lie-filled propaganda showcase. He hit on his usual talking points – drugs are pouring in, Obamacare is a disaster, we must rebuild the military – and made bold promises without offering much in the way of policy specifics. In the transcript given to the media, “Make America great again” was written in all caps. And Trump’s use of a military widow as his guest highlighted, as The Intercept noted, “all the key ingredients of US war propaganda.”
Nowhere to be seen was that same widow’s father-in-law, who has refused to meet Trump. His absence underscores the reality that only a month into Trump’s presidency, people have already been hurt. The Yemen raid not only cost a SEAL his life, but cost innocent Yemeni people theirs as well. Communities have been terrorized by Trump’s aggressive deportation raids. Hate crimes against ethnic and religious minorities have surged following Trump’s demonization of various “others.”
This is still the same man who bragged about sexually assaulting women. This is still the same man who encouraged his supporters to assault protesters. This is still the same man who emerged as a political figure by peddling a racist, crackpot conspiracy theory about the first black president not being American. And this is still the same man who filled his cabinet with the most bloodthirsty capitalist pillagers from every corporate sector.
We must not make the mistake of being charmed by a divisive despot who gives a relatively optimistic speech. Trump remains an imminent threat to working people, to the environment, to science and education, to immigrants and marginalized groups, and to the First Amendment. An occasional presidential posture only demonstrates his ability to be subversive – and in many ways, that should alarm us most of all.