At this very moment, a small army of White House aides is scrambling, circled around a computer in an office in the West Wing pecking out a State of the Shitshow speech they hope will “capture the voice” of a president more given to grunts and verbal excrescences than the lofty rhetoric of presidents. Here’s a spoiler; their work won’t matter.
That’s not merely because when the Trump administration sends us their speechwriters, they’re not sending their best. They are sending the indifferently educated, culturally buffoonish, shiftier dregs of authoritarian nationalist fanboys Donald Trump manages to recruit from random bus stations, hobo squats, and TPUSA Trump Young Pioneers camps.
Some, I assume are good people, but I’m almost certainly wrong.
All this feverish labor on draft after draft of the president’s remarks tonight is, like all White House activity, utterly irrelevant and contingent on the president’s mood at game time. Trump could easily whisper to himself, “Fuck it, we’ll do it live!” and shred the entire thing. He could rely on his famous gut instinct and yodel on for an hour about the imagined glories of his gracious reign.
You’ll spot several styles and tells in the speech tonight. Here’s what to look for in tonight’s river of Trumpian word vomit, a guide to what’s real, what’s fake, what’s there for base-voter management, and what’s there just to play the news media.
Of course, Trump will engage in some Bannonesqe self-pleasuring on the front end, but that comes with the territory for American’s tallest, fittest, most intelligent President. It will be Soviet in its affront to reality; every promise has been kept, the beet harvest exceeds the Five Year Plan, and tractor production exceeds that of the decadent West. You know the drill. His victory lap will be a field day for Daniel Dale and the army of fact-checkers who catalog Trump’s minute-by-minute catalog of lies.
With apologies to Pink Floyd, all in all, it’s all just a speech about the Wall. The Wall uber Alles Make America White Again crowd is freaked out by last week’s loss, and they’ve been crawling the walls like Ann Coulter on too many diet pills. Since his ignominious defeat last week at the hands of La Pelosi, they’ve been praying for a national emergency declaration so the president can deploy the military for a domestic law enforcement operation … you know, the kind of extraconstitutional statist action conservatives just love.
The Wall from the Pacific to the Gulf remains the singular, all-in promise of the Trump campaign. His nervous, “Call it whatever!” statements are a long way from the imposing creation made of the ground bones of immigrants killed by the laser-turrets and robot attack dogs so beloved of the base, but dumb springs eternal. Trump can’t let it go, even though his losing hand has shattered his Senate coalition.
The media will, of course, fall into one of the traps they so frequently do when it comes to this president. They continue to treat Trump as if his statements, proposals, and policy announcements have any actual weight or merit. These items are added to the Trump speech only at the last moment, and only as concessions by a president whose advisers have as much luck holding his interest on policy as they would teaching a dog Sanskrit.
You’ll hear some big, sweeping, popular ideas in the speech tonight. “We’re going to eliminate AIDS by 2030. We’re going to open a Whataburger on the Moon by April! Puppies and kittens for everyone!” They’ll sound normal, and even presidential.
Ignore them. These ideas and policies are meaningless tripe, the product of focus-grouped and rigorously crafted message-testing. They are the product of a man who sits on a throne of lies, written by the most mendacious public “servants” in recorded memory. Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Kellyanne Conway’s scent will be all over these policies. (Jared’s scent is of sandalwood and tightly suppressed rage.)
Typically, these kinds of middle-ground happy-talk policies are meant to bridge partisan divides and capture voters outside the rigid ideological silos. Presidents of both parties use them, to varying effect. In this president’s case, they’re meant to capture the attention of 2,500 writers, opinion editors, and columnists. Not one of these idiot-bait fantasies will ever be backed up by meaningful policy or legislative action.
They’re designed to be a touch-back for the White House later; “See, we tried to do a Toilet Seat Safety Standards bill! It was in the State of the Union.”
The media still doesn’t understand this, even after two years of Infrastructure Weeks. Watch how many pixels and column inches tomorrow are dedicated to the presidential vaporware the Troika of Truthlessness shoves into this speech.
This racial arsonist, insult-comic president who lives in a bubble of rage-tweeting and grade-school name-calling has one quality we can all acknowledge: gall. So don’t be surprised when the most divisive, destructive, and dickish president in American history stands on the floor of the House tonight and issues a call for unity, comity, and civility.
Calls for national unity by typical presidents in times of national crisis and emergency may have a little politics embedded in them, but in this case, his call for unity is a sign of this president’s political collapse. It’s weakness, not magnanimity. He’s the class bully suddenly complaining that he is the victim after being punched in the nose by a girl.
Whether they’ll acknowledge it or not, there are problems in Trumpland. Many of the people hurt by the first shutdown looked a lot like the average Trump voter and the reason he ended it was that polling showed he had taken a hard hit with white working-class folks. He bet big and lost big, and the base knows it.
The conspiracy demo of QAnon lunatics isn’t happy that the promised arrests and prosecutions of 60,000 enemies of the state seem to recede ever toward the infinite horizon of fuck-all never. They need stoking, so expect some god-damned numerological signal to them he’s still in the fight against the reptilian child killer cult of Chappaqua.
That’s why no matter what the speech tonight entails, expect a big IV drip of amygdala-stimulating Fox News-friendly agitporn about caravans full of dangerous brown-skinned invaders, and the existential perils of Central American children with Hello Kitty backpacks storming the border. Brace yourselves for lurid, hard intel data drawn from Sicario: Day of the Soldato and fan-fiction horror stories from Sean Hannity’s fear closet.
America will be watching tonight to see a master class in defining the presidency way, way down. Ever the showman, Trump can’t help but disappoint.