No Fire, No Fury–Just Failure

An analysis and critique of President Trump’s first Oval Office prime-time address
President Trump during his Oval Office prime-time broadcast. Image taken from ABC7 Chicago.
President Trump during his Oval Office prime-time broadcast. Image taken from ABC7 Chicago.

Last night President Trump addressed the nation in his first ever Oval Office prime-time broadcast. The speech came in light of the government shutdown of Dec 22, which was a direct result of the dispute between Trump and lawmakers over funding for border security. The nine-minute address was a last-ditch attempt to pressure Congress and reframe the debate over border security. Despite delivering an uncharacteristically measured and civil speech, President Trump told us nothing new, and either blew things way out of proportion, lied or tried to terrify the American people.  

President Trump began by calling the situation at the southern border a humanitarian crisis. He stipulated that he personally was determined to end this “cycle of human suffering.” He then introduced his plan.

“My administration has presented Congress with a detailed proposal to secure the border and stop the criminal gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers … The proposal from Homeland Security includes cutting edge technology for detecting drugs, weapons, illegal contraband and many other things. We have requested more agents, [and] immigration judges to process the sharp rise of unlawful migration fueled by our very strong economy,” Trump said.

He then added that the plan also presented an “urgent request for humanitarian assistance and medical support” in addition to a plea to Congress to close immigration loopholes “so that children of illegal immigrants can be safely and humanely returned back home.” This plea also included a demand for $5.7 billion for a physical barrier at the southern border.

If the president really thought this was a humanitarian crisis, then he should have prioritized and specified exactly what “humanitarian assistance and medical support” means, rather than explain a proposal for Homeland Security. He has demanded tighter security and wall funding many times before, but last night he tried to manufacture a humanitarian crisis to get what he wanted.

Trump went on to accuse Democrats of ignoring the ‘crisis’ at the border, and blamed the Democrats for the government shutdown.

“The federal government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, because Democrats will not fund border security. My administration is doing everything in our power to help those impacted by the situation, but the only solution is for Democrats to pass a spending bill that defends our borders and reopens the government,” Trump said.

This is a blatant lie. According to a report done by Linda Qiu, a fact checking reporter for The New York Times, Democrats actually “offered $1.3 billion in funding for border security measures like enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing.” Trump also “took responsibility for the partial government shutdown” at a meeting with Democratic leadership in December.

“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Trump said (Qiu).

The shutdown may become the longest in the history of the United States, and the ripple effects can already be seen. According to Aljazeera, the shutdown “affects more than 800,000 federal workers in nine different departments”; additionally, “federal workers deemed ‘essential’ are required to work without pay” which the American Federation of Government Employees is calling “inhumane.”

In light of this, the president should be much more careful about pulling the humanitarian-crisis-card for his benefit, especially when a shutdown that he is entirely responsible for may deprive the 38 million Americans living on food stamps of things to put on their table. VOX’s Tara Golshan noted that the United States Department of Agriculture, which is one of the nine federal agencies that was shut down, “is now guaranteeing funding for the nation’s largest food aid program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), through February.” Golshan also points out that “after that, the agency doesn’t have a game plan to support the more than 38 million people on the program.” What will Trump do when these Americans go hungry? Send his thoughts and prayers?

Perhaps the most painful part of the president’s speech was his account of several very violent crimes that were committed by illegal immigrants. For the record, illegal and legal immigrants commit less crimes than native-born citizens. In Texas alone “the conviction rate for legal immigrants was 85 percent below the native-born rate” in 2015 (Ingraham). A similar study, also cited in the Washington Post examined if areas with higher numbers of undocumented immigrants had higher crime rates. The answer was “a resounding no” (Ingraham). The president used his very carefully crafted message as an attempt to scare people into thinking that they will be raped, beheaded, beaten to death, and/or will have a loved one stripped from them by illegal aliens. The stories that are true about crimes like these are terribly sad, but only represent a very small minority of both criminals and crimes.

Furthermore, CNN found that in the fiscal year of 2018, only “17,000 adults at the southern border with existing criminal records were arrested” and that “large portions of the immigrants being arrested at the Southwest border committed nonviolent crimes, like illegal entry or re-entry and driving under the influence of alcohol” (Rocha, Ries, Wagner and Wills). Trump inflated these statistics to a disproportional point many times during his speech.

One of Trump’s main goals with this speech was to convince Congress to fund his border wall. His appeal to them was almost verbatim of arguments he made before, and included lies.

“The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year. Vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress. The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico,” Trump said.

Trump’s assertion about the trade deal with Mexico is also a lie. According to Alan Rappeport, an economic policy reporter for The New York Times, “the revised North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, has yet to pass in Congress. Any economic benefits from the agreement, if it passes, will most likely come in the form of lower tariffs for American companies or higher wages for American workers.” Rappeport also notes (rather obviously) that “this is different from Mr. Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico would finance the wall.”

Trump’s insistence on the wall caused the shutdown. He had no way of proving that the wall would do any of the things he said it could, and even admitted that going on national television to try to convince the American people was pointless.

“It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” Trump said.

President Trump was right. A nine-minute address filled with fear and hyperboles was not what the American people needed to hear to convince them that shutting down the government over a border security dispute was necessary. A border wall is not going to help the janitors at the USDA pay the bills and put food on the table for their families. In his speech, the president swore to protect the American people. A wall might protect the American people from small percentage of violent crimes, but no wall can protect us from misinformation and fear mongering to advance a dubious agenda.



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