(Getty/Win McNamee)

State of the Union: See the political wild man, tamed for just one night!

Trump's speech was thinly disguised red meat for his followers. They know his true nature will soon assert itself


Chauncey DeVega
January 31, 2018 9:59AM (UTC)

Donald Trump is the freest man alive. Elizabeth Bruenig of The Washington Post has explained this, noting that Trump allegedly "had an affair with a porn star while his model wife was home with their newborn son" and then paid Stormy Daniels $130,000, "a measly 0.004 percent of his claimed net worth," to keep the whole thing out of the newspapers:

Trump is impervious to scandal and immune to social censure. He is insulated from consequence by power, money and fame in a way not imaginable to the ordinary person. He is the freest man alive. . . .

When it’s time for dessert, Trump gets two scoops of ice cream and everyone else gets one, and if, after all that and a sack of McDonald’s, he still decides he has the height and weight of an athlete, then he does. There’s the greed, the hoarding of wealth and gold objects, with vanishingly little given to charity, even just to add a touch of decorum. Decorum doesn’t exist in isolation; it’s something you undertake with regard to other people, and Trump does not regard other people. Unseemliness is a kind of liberty, and Trump has perfected that, too.

Donald Trump's unique form of freedom is only possible because he is rich and white and a man (as well as a Republican). No black or brown person would ever be allowed to behave like Trump, without consequences or impunity. No woman would ever be allowed the same latitude for public and private behavior without negative consequences that he has enjoyed.

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When Trump won the presidency in November 2016, the question that hovered over him was whether he would be able to comport himself properly and rise to the responsibilities expected of the most powerful man on earth and leader of the world's most influential country. In essence, could Donald Trump, the political wild man, learn to behave in a civilized manner?

The answer is no. Enabled by his keepers in the Republican Party, Donald Trump has run amok. The political wild man will not be restrained or otherwise stopped. He is a petit-fascist and authoritarian with no respect for America's democratic norms and traditions. To that end, Donald Trump has threatened violence against his political enemies, wants to limit freedom of the press, seeks to ban words and ideas that he and his administration do not like, believes he is above the law, does the bidding of Christian fascists, has allied himself with white supremacists, celebrates cruelty as if it were kindness and generosity, and quite likely received assistance from a hostile foreign power in winning the 2016 presidential election.

A political wild man can sometimes act civilized. Was Donald Trump able to meet the expectations and standards expected of him -- however low those may actually be in practice -- during his first State of the Union address?

In part, yes.

On Tuesday night, Trump embraced a false narrative of bipartisanship by talking about infrastructure and claiming he wants Democrats and Republicans to come together to fix the country's immigration policies. Of course, he claimed credit for a "booming" economy, which is already performing slightly worse under his stewardship than it did under Barack Obama. Trump also bragged about the Republican Party's "tax reform" legislation, misrepresenting its harmful impact on most Americans.

During his speech, Donald Trump also continued his macabre politics of hatred, repeatedly talking about people who have been killed by roving gangs of "illegal aliens." He also made sure to present the standard right-wing talking points about patriotism, the American flag, the military, police and God. Trump took shots at what he and the right-wing media imagine to be a "conspiracy" against him by the "deep state." There was no mention of the Russia scandal or his attempts to obstruct justice. In all, Trump's State of the Union Speech was thinly disguised, armed-over political red meat for his most rabid voters and other allies.

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How will Trump's supporters respond to his first State of the Union address? There will be some grumblings of discontent that he was "too restrained." But in total, Trump's army of human deplorables will be pleased by his performance. Trump's followers have a libidinal relationship with him: They know his essential nature and love him for it. Sooner rather than later, the political wild man will return to his true form.

Trump's voters envy and admire his ability to be the freest white man alive because they seek such a state of being for themselves. He does not treat people with dignity or respect. Trump is a pathological liar. Yet he convinces himself and others that such mendacity is an act of virtue and truth. Trump is a bigot and a racist who has helped to usher overt white supremacists into the mainstream of American politics and the highest office in the land. "Political correctness" is viewed as a type of slavery by Trump and others who themselves are willfully enslaved by the power of his white identity politics. As the freest white man alive, Trump is an avatar of white rage who can break the shackles of human decency and civility that liberals, progressives and nonwhites have supposedly put on White America.

The mainstream American news media and its pundit class will once again try to suggest that Donald Trump was more "measured" and "careful" and, at least for a moment, presidential. The right-wing echo chamber and Trump's de facto state media, Fox News, will herald Tuesday night's State of the Union address as one of the greatest in the country's history. The American people will vacillate between disgust, contempt, shame and embarrassment -- and of course his followers will experience a flush of excitement and pride.

Donald Trump the political wild man has restrained his worst behavior for a few hours -- or perhaps even a few days. But the inexorable pull of his true character will soon assert itself. Once that happens, Trump will once more run amok, trampling American democracy and bringing shame to the United States before the world.

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Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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