He merely pirouetted

John Cassidy at the New Yorker also somehow managed not to be so overwhelmed by Trump’s ability to read a speech aloud that he took that to be A New And Better Trump.

If there was anything fresh about what Trump said to Congress, it was largely stylistic. He didn’t pivot; he merely pirouetted, and then he dug into the same political ground he has already claimed.

About all that happened was that Trump, perhaps feeling saddled by low approval ratings, caved to the normal conventions of political communication. These rules dictate that, on august occasions such as a speech to Congress, Presidents talk politely and try to avoid giving offense. They leaven the heavy fare they are bearing with moments of optimism and humanity, promise the viewers some goodies, and offer up some notes of inclusion. Trump did all these things, and he even deployed some uplifting prose. If his Inauguration speech sounded like it had been written by Steve Bannon suffering from a migraine, Tuesday’s appeared to have been the work of a professional speechwriter.

And all that is just normal, not to say minimal. It’s not remotely a reason to decide Trump is not the malevolent bullying ignoramus he seemed on Tuesday afternoon. Trump is still that malevolent bullying ignoramus with the undisclosed tax returns.

This tone was markedly different from the one Trump had struck as recently as last week, at the cpac conference, and the television pundits swallowed it whole. In substantive terms, however, Trump didn’t give an inch, or even a millimetre. The soft opening quickly transitioned into a reiteration of Trump’s harsh “America First” agenda, and once he got there his language got considerably darker.

Take immigration, an issue to which Trump returned repeatedly on Tuesday. After pointing out that he has already ordered the rounding up and deportation of large numbers of undocumented aliens, he boasted, “Bad ones are going out as I speak.” Further promoting the myth that America is bedevilled by an immigrant crime wave, he said that he had ordered the Department of Homeland Security to set up a new office to support the victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

Now why would he do that? Because it’s a chance to foment hatred against a powerless set of Others. He likes that kind of thing. What does that say about him? That he’s a terrible human being. His ability to read a speech aloud doesn’t alter that.

As Will Wilkinson, the policy analyst and blogger, pointed out during the speech, “The point of Trump’s lies is to create a widespread sense that an open, pluralistic, multicultural society is dangerous.” To justify his many illiberal proposals, as well as his authoritarian instincts, Trump needs to persuade people that everything is going to hell, and that only he can save things. Nowhere in his speech did he depart from this doleful and deceptive script.

What would Trump want with pluralism? He doesn’t admire anyone or anything except himself, so pluralism is never going to be his kind of thing.

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