President Donald Trump gave a speech Tuesday night.
He read effectively from a teleprompter, exaggerated his accomplishments and lied outright — as presidents often do during State of the Union addresses — and managed to not spout any profanities.
For that, he will likely be praised by some as competently presidential, and he certainly pleased the blind eyes in Congress who stood and applauded him at every turn.
But it’s the blind eyes, in there and out in living rooms across America, we need to worry about. Because the Donald Trump who spoke Tuesday night in more measured tones that we’re used to is the same Donald Trump who spent the past year denigrating the office of the presidency with hateful tweets, divisive rhetoric and flat-out embarrassing behavior.
He’s the same president with historically low poll numbers, disliked by about two-thirds of Americans. He’s the same president who, according to Gallup, dropped the world’s approval of American leadership to 30 percent, down from 48 percent in President Barack Obama’s last year in office.
Trump is still the man who openly bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. He’s still the man who called African countries “shitholes” and expressed a preference for immigrants from a predominantly white nations like Norway.
He’s still a well-documented sexist and a con man of the highest order.
He’s still making money off taxpayers by spending weekend after weekend at his own properties and lining his pockets with money from foreign diplomats who stay at his Washington, D.C., hotel.
He still hasn’t released his tax returns, or apologized — ever — for any of the multitude of offensive things he has tweeted or the almost incalculable number of lies he has uttered.
But the blind eyes don’t care about any of those things. They see only tax cuts. They see only a Supreme Court justice who aligns with their views. They say, “Hey, isn’t your 401(k) doing well?” as if gutting the norms of democracy is worth it for the thrill of personal gain. As if the half of Americans who don’t have 401(k) accounts aren’t worth consideration.
So they stand up and cheer, and pretend the president they’re siding with isn’t a man who puts himself above all else. They pretend he seeks unity, even as he devotes part of his big speech to equating immigrants with violent gang members.
They pretend this president isn’t immersed in a growing scandal involving Russia’s interference with the 2016 election. They don’t find it odd that the word “Russia” appeared only once in the State of the Union address, even though the Trump-appointed head of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, told the BBC on Monday that he “has every expectation” that Russia will target the U.S. midterm elections this year.
The blind eyes who stood and cheered acted as if the man behind the podium isn’t the same man who on Monday failed to enact sanctions against Russia that were mandated by Congress last year in an almost unanimous vote meant to punish the country for meddling in our election.
But he is the same man. He’s the same man who has repeatedly spoken out against decent Americans — from football players to members of his own party — while never saying a bad word about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump is the same man who routinely smears the Justice Department and the FBI in a transparent attempt to derail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election tampering. He’s the same man who is reportedly in favor of releasing a Republican memo relating to that investigation that both the Justice Department and the head of the FBI say could jeopardize classified information.
He’s the same man who acts as if fealty to the president is the only acceptable option for a public servant, the same man whose mouth says “Make America Great Again” but whose actions show he knows nothing of what makes this country great in the first place and, worse yet, doesn’t care.
The president we all saw speak of unity Tuesday night is the same president who approved a recent political advertisement tied to immigration reform that again painted immigrants as murderers and said: “Now Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”
But the blind eyes cheered him. They cheered him all the same, happy to be getting what they want, and more than willing to turn a blind eye to the damage in his wake.