About halfway through President Trump’s dreadfully long, low-energy State of the Union address Tuesday night, I asked myself a question: why am I watching this?
Anyone who joined me in sitting through the speech was reminded that Trump is a pathological liar and shameless demagogue. He repeated obviously made-up claims, like the assertion that the recently passed tax cuts were the largest in history—as any informed person knows, they aren’t. He misled viewers through his frequent omissions: never mentioned was how disproportionately these tax cuts benefit the wealthiest Americans, or what programs would eventually be slashed to pay for them.
But attempting to fact-check Trump, as we know, is almost beside the point. His lies are so many and so frequent, and his ignorance so vast, that the task truly is never-ending. Last month, Esquire announced that Trump had blurted out his “2000th lie in office.” No one seems to really care, or at least no one in the Republican Party or much of the right-wing press. We knew before he was elected that Trump was a liar. The journalists who continue to dutifully correct his lies are doing important work, but as a political matter, is it even relevant? Trump was elected after making ludicrous promises, like claiming that Mexico would pay for a wall along our southern border. He was elected after he was caught admitting to sexual assault on tape. He defied nearly every “norm” that previous candidates, whatever their other sins, had adhered to. If fact-checking truly mattered, someone else would have given the State of the Union this week.
One lie, however, deserves special attention: his contention that a “a single immigrant” could lead to “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” coming to the United States through what’s properly called family reunification, or what the GOP calls “chain migration.” He coupled the demonizing rhetoric with demagoguery, inviting the families of two young women killed by MS-13 gang members in Long Island to be in the gallery and calling on Congress “to finally close the deadly loopholes” that let such gangs “break into our country.”
But as a leading researcher on Central American gangs pointed out in the Washington Post, the “estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States account for less than 1 percent of the estimated 1.4 million total gang members in the country.” What Trump did was scapegoat all Latino immigrants on prime-time television. It was shameless to use victims as props, and to deploy the pomp of the occasion to make it all seem “presidential”—a designation too many in the press reached for after the speech.