When President Donald Trump gives the State of the Union on Tuesday night, the citizens of a divided America will hear two different speeches.
Conservatives will hear a triumphal list of victories and successes. It will be a tale of battles fought and won against tall odds, delivered with Trump’s signature hyperbole. Dishonestly, he’ll heap credit upon himself for positive economic and crime trends that gained momentum before the 2016 election. He’s made no secret of his delusional belief that, despite abysmally low poll numbers, he’s succeeding at the job better than any previous president. Expect his speech to build on that theme. His base will eat it up.
To Democrats, it will sound like a list of outrageous falsehoods and evasions, hiding the true effect of his one year in office: making life much worse for most Americans and striking major blows at democracy itself. Trump’s first year was marked by what should be called “disachievements” — the undoing of the best of democracy and American life.
These disachievements deserve scrutiny, but they are not new to Trump. They’re what Republican conservatives have wanted for decades. Trump is truly Mr. Republican, destroying the American ideal of a government of, by and for the people and replacing it with a government of, by and for the wealthy.
His major legislative disachievement is the tax cut bill which gave away $1.5 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years during a year when 1 percent of wealthy people got 82 percent of the wealth generated by working people worldwide. That’s $1.5 trillion that will not be spent on the common good — on education, health care, infrastructure, and all the needs of the middle class and the poor — the 99 percent of Americans. Since money is fungible, that is a taking of $1.5 trillion from 99 percent of Americans.
But a lopsided wealth distribution is about much more than money. Great wealth means great power — economic power and political power. This is a huge drain on democracy, in which political power should be equal among all citizens. Economic concentration in the top 1 percent means a great shift of access to the 1 percent from the 99 percent — access to the best of places to live, the best of educational opportunities, the best of medical care, and so on.
Trump’s disachievements are forms of destruction. Take regulations. Regulations are forms of protection for the public and the environment. Eliminating regulations means eliminating protections. His stated goal has been the elimination of 75 percent of regulations, that is, 75 percent of the protections for the public and the environment. And he has appointed enemies of public protections to head major government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission, which have repealed environmental, drug and net neutrality protections.
Many of the disachievements come about by doing nothing — failing to fund enforcement of regulations or to appoint needed officials to government agencies, e.g., the State Department — or by pulling out of previous agreements. The United States pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement and reversed the Obama administration’s wise decision to block the Keystone Pipeline.
And let’s not forget that Trump’s Republicans have stayed busy eroding all norms of civility and respect in our society. They’ve empowered Nazis to march through our streets with torches. They’ve enshrined racism and discrimination in policy. They’ve put the fear of nuclear war front-and-center in the minds of our children.
That’s the bad news that Democrats will hear in the State of the Union speech. But there will also be good news hidden by Trump’s speech.
First, Russiagate. The Mueller Commission is closing in on the president’s obstruction of justice by flipping members of his administration. The Special Counsel is also closing in not just on collusion with the Russians during our elections, but also on the Republican president’s dealing with the Russian mafia and the Russian money laundering operations that have long supported Trump’s business empire. Mueller is closing in so fast that the truth may come out before congressional elections this November.
But the really great good news is the political activation of our citizens. The Women’s Marches were the greatest citizen mobilizations in recent history. The Indivisible movement has taken hold throughout the country. Poll numbers for the Republican in the White House are among the lowest ever recorded.
Our form of government is of, by and for the people. It’s based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work together to provide public resources to, as the U.S. Constitution puts it, “establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”
Americans are rising up to bring back an America that fulfills these ideals. And we will not stop.
George Lakoff is professor emeritus of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley. Gil Durán is former press secretary to Gov. Jerry Brown.