Like many of you out there, I have my personal favorite lie from Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech. But before I get to the reveal — there were so many lies to choose from; in fact, The Washington Post fact-checkers put the number at just under 30 — let’s review.
I’m sure many of you went with the obvious — the speech’s theme of comity (or was it comedy?), in which Trump would ask for all parties to put aside their differences in service to America.
No one believes Trump cares a whit about comity, of course. We might as well be asked to believe that those Virginia Democrats had dressed in blackface to promote racial unity. And so when Trump said, “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good,” Nancy Pelosi rose in mock applause, smirking as Trump looked back at her. It was the meme of the night.
But Trump had let us in on the joke before even giving the speech, telling a group of TV news anchors that afternoon that Joe Biden was “dumb” and Chuck Schumer was a “nasty son of a bitch.” The next day, as if to emphasize the point, he was calling Rep. Adam Schiff “a partisan hack” for having the nerve to launch a House committee version of the Russia probe.
Look, history has taught us to expect little from State of the Union speeches. But history went overboard Tuesday night in the matter of one Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s expected big line in the speech — one that was met with near silence — outlined his idea of what cooperation means in Trumpworld: “If there is going to be peace and legislation,” he said, “there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
Trump’s idea of cooperation: No investigation or no peace. The issue isn’t really comity at all. Trump wants a truce, but, of course, only on his terms. This is the man who just gave us a 35-day partial government shutdown and is now threatening another. This is the man who threatens to avoid Congress altogether and build his ridiculous wall by declaring a fake national emergency. But he wants a truce.
On this point — while never mentioning the shutdown — Trump was all in. He cited an “economic miracle,” a claim he backs with often exaggerated numbers, and then insists the only things that could wreck this miracle are “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
He didn’t mention that the so-called miracle happened even as the long list of Trump associates were being indicted in Bob Mueller’s Russia probe, which he usually refers to as a hoax. But give him credit, he knew his audience well enough to know that a mention of hoax would have been roundly booed.
His second major point was the so-called crisis on the southern border. The two issues are related. Trump needs either a victory on the wall to appease his base or to keep alive the idea of constant crisis that can be resolved only if Nancy Pelosi would relent on the wall.
And so illegal immigration was the other major point of the speech. He skipped through a few other issues — infrastructure got, I think, 20 seconds — and warmed hearts with moving stories of cancer survivors and Holocaust survivors, had a surprisingly funny moment with the Democratic women in white, but mostly he wanted to warn us of a new round of caravans “on the march to the United States.” Democrats groaned at Trump’s conflation of those fleeing violence in Central American with “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers.”
Trump has already announced he is sending thousands more troops to the border to, presumably, set up more barbed wire. I don’t know if this is the worst abuse of Trump’s reign, but it’s close. It’s certainly fear-mongering at a high level even for Trump, and it’s a misallocation of American military power against a flood of families, many of them seeking asylum, which is, as we know, entirely legal. What is wrong is wasting money on moving troops to the border that could be used to address what is a humanitarian crisis.
Which brings me to my favorite lie of the night. It’s my favorite because I had never heard it and because it so easily fact-checkable that you just can’t believe the president of the United States would go there. (Actually, you can believe it. The fact that you can believe it is what’s unbelievable.)
In pushing for wall funding, Trump stood up to claim that El Paso, Texas, once had “extremely high rates of violent crime,” making it “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities.” But then a wall was built and “now with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
El Paso is a border town across from Ciudad Juarez, which is, in fact, a highly dangerous city. But El Paso was one of America’s safest cities before a wall was built in 2008-2009 and is one of the safest cities now. The El Paso Times fact-checked Trump’s claim and found that El Paso had the third-lowest crime rate of cities with more than 500,000 residents in the three years before the construction of a 57-mile-long fence. Two years after the fence was built, violent crime in El Paso had increased by 17 percent, which, I’m sure, had nothing to do with the wall and was still quite low by urban standards.
If Trump cared about the truth, he could use some of his long hours of executive time to check out the facts. Now that would be a true fact-check-proof miracle.