On Tuesday night Donald Trump gave a much-anticipated address from the Oval Office, his first as President. There was rampant speculation about what he might say. Some pundits wondered if he might take the opportunity to declare a national emergency in order to reallocate federal funds to his idiotic and useless vanity wall. Others just considered it a ploy to get the public to pressure Congress to pay his ransom for reopening the government.
As it turns out the speech was a tiresome affair that featured Trump solemnly reciting from his TelePrompTer and sniffling as he has been known to do after snorting Adderall. There was nothing that could be called newsworthy. Trump offered no solutions to the shutdown impasse. He made no overtures to Democrats on border security legislation. There wasn’t anything different about this speech than what he’s been saying for the past three weeks on this subject. And of course, that means he was repeating the same old lies that he and his surrogates (including Surrogate-in-Chief Mike Pence) have been foisting on the public since the Trump Shutdown began.
So there was no reason for this speech to be carried live by the news networks. No news value would have been lost by delaying it for half an hour so that it could be fact-checked – a practice that should be in effect for everything Trump says or does. What the speech did contain was Trump’s now tedious routine of fear-mongering and blame shifting to Democrats.
He amped up the emotionally charged fears of violence allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants with examples that included murders, rapes, and even beheadings. Never mind that this immigrant population is far less likely to commit these or any crimes than are native-born citizens. The purpose of this overtly racist argument, as employed by Trump and his shills on Fox News, is to demonize people who are largely peaceful and law-abiding.
So why did Trump take the extraordinary step of demanding primetime television access to the nation in order to bore them with rote repetitions of his commonplace cult rally ravings? He must have known that there was nothing in his remarks that would change anyone’s mind. Nor would it move the needle on resolving the shutdown problem. The only thing that it would be certain to do is to dominate the news cycle for a short period of time. And therein lies a clue to what might have been his true intention.
Absent this speech, the most prominent stories that came out the same day concerned the ongoing investigations into Trump’s collusion and conspiracy with Russia. One of those stories featured the chairman of his presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, who was found to have been sharing proprietary polling data with a suspected Russian intelligence operative. That information corresponds with the sort of data used by Russia to interfere with the election and links Trump’s campaign to the Russian conspiracy more closely than ever before.
The other story concerned the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who famously met with Manafort, Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and others, in Trump Tower. That was the meeting where they discussed acquiring “dirt” in the form of stolen emails from Hillary Clinton and her associates. Veselnitskaya was indicted yesterday for obstruction of justice in a case that revealed her close ties to the Kremlin.
Given the bombshell quality of these stories, it would have been a fortunate coincidence if something else arose that might distract the media and the public from focusing on them. Could Trump have been tipped off about these impending legal disclosures? Perhaps by Manafort or his lawyers who have already been discovered to have secretly briefed Trump’s legal team And might Trump have had an incentive to schedule a rare Oval Office address that was completely devoid of substance in order to execute that distraction? Can anyone supply another reason why the President would embarrass himself with that empty televised spectacle that was the oratorical equivalence of dropping his pants on the subway to draw attention away from a worse crime?
Who knows with this president? This might be a step too deep into conspiracy theory. But it is well within the bounds of plausibility for a president who is openly considering a declaration of a national emergency – which does not exist – just so he can build a wall that most Americans don’t want. It is not far-fetched for someone who lies with such ease about things as easily verifiable as whether past presidents told him that they should have built a wall; or that 4,000 suspected terrorists were caught crossing the southern border; or that Democrats request that Trump change his wall construction from concrete to steel.
None of those things were true. And that tendency for flagrant falsification is what makes anything possible with this president. Including a plot to wave a shiny Oval Office speech in front of the press to get them to ignore the fact that he’s pantless. But fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have worked. The other stories are still being covered (less so on Fox News) and are likely to make headlines on Wednesday and beyond. So Trump embarrassed himself, and wasted the nation’s time, in vain. The only problem with that is that it might make him more likely to actually declare a national emergency, out of anger and/or vengeance, in order to distract from the failure of this distraction. Stay tuned.