Wednesday, March 1, 2017


By Dominique Paul Noth

Widow Carryn Owens as Ivanka Trump is placed alongside to watch
during Trump speech to Congress.
The most penetrating moment in Donald Trump’s speech to Congress Tuesday night was not his, except for the crass setup.

It was widow Carryn Owens, with tears streaming, looking up to the heavens as if speaking to her late husband – Navy SEAL William (Ryan) Owens, who died Jan. 29 in the first military raid Trump ordered – as the assembly exploded in tumultuous sustained applause.

Only the most hard-hearted, as several anchor journalists noted as they slid by commenting on the moment, could criticize.  All understood and empathized with the genuine emotions and impression made by a wife made widow less than a month before, whose husband died heroically, as all other US warriors have whether the fight in question was in Korea, Vietnam,  Iraq, Afghanistan or in this case Yemen.

And all presidents have had to own up to military lives lost in action they approved, actions sometimes hard to evaluate in immediate hindsight. But I can think of none other who tried first to blame others for the mission (this one ordered over dinner). Or remember any president using a widow to deflect criticism by Pentagon sources and others about the failure to kill the target or produce meaningful information, while costing civilian deaths and enlarging enmity in the Yemen public.

The widow, positioned next to Ivanka and reacting to the applause, gave a look to the skies that spoke volumes about genuine grief -- and nothing about policy.

But Trump did and that was the shameful highlight of a speech riddled with shameless moments even while he was praised for being more moderate in his tone.

The speech revealed the difference between the Teleprompter Trump and the tweeting and rally rouser Trump. He says basically the same things and uses the same exaggerations (fact checkers were going crazy) but in a more refined way. He long boasted that he could act presidential whenever he wanted to.  Well, this was it, with no concern about matching facts to his rhetoric.

He cleared the hurdle of sounding reasonable and laying out ideas that people in abstract may like but he lied about what he has accomplished, taking credit for jobs previously approved and never admitted he inherited a pretty decent economy and health plan – instead roasting the previous administration as having elevated his problems while actually making his road easier. Even his destructive tendencies are clearer because of the policies he can attack.  Going hard after Obama is a way of lowering the bar on his own regime.

His respectable opening minute condemning racist and anti-Semitic behavior somehow mentioned the Kansas City shooting without pointing out that the alleged killer had borrowed Trump’s own anti-immigrant rhetoric as he was shooting.

Particularly shameless was the demeaning of immigrants after giving head fakes earlier in the day the he would not go after those whose only crime was getting into the country without papers.  Nothing about that was in the speech – in fact he didn’t heed the advice of his own advisers on security to drop the phrase “radical Islamist terrorists.” He constantly exaggerated the impact of “criminal” immigrants, though all surveys indicate that immigrants are more responsible and law-abiding than Steve Bannon’s nativist models. 

He is even wasting taxpayer money for Homeland Security to create a bureau to set citizens against immigrants, curiously named VOICE (Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement), which raised far beyond reality the amount of such crimes and was perceived by many observers to be a justification of white supremacy.

So to many was his suggestion of “merit-based” immigration, since critics read that not as other countries use it but as a push to proclaim only the “merit” he and business owners determine, which is hardly the way the US was built.

Not done there, Trump brought four victims of crime by illegal immigrants to the speech and singled them out – not the hundreds of thousands similarly victimized by US citizens who fill our prisons at a higher rate than such immigrants do, aside from those ICE is holding. In fact, Trump and his staff play games with statistics on many fronts – the economy, environmental regulation, education, crime – by lumping together categories that should for accuracy be kept separate.

The speech also intended to show a president in action though it was mainly promises of action, saying bluntly “The time for small thinking is over.” Yet elsewhere he embraced small thinking, such as suggesting that the ACA mandate that everyone should carry health insurance was too broad and too onerous – yet, of course, it is the way better health care has been created to keep costs down. 

And not many caught Trump’s trick in language when he insisted any new health care law must include “access” to insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.  ACA insists on such coverage and mere “access” is an enormous loss of protection.

Where Trump has acted on resolutions, the early results have been mixed.  His order that no new regulation can be offered unless two old ones are eliminated – well, that may sound good on the stump but it absolutely chills progress and presumes blindly the regulations being eliminated were not needed.

To this point, he has eliminated regulations far outside what supporters envisioned, including attacking an Obama-era law intended to protect retirement money from conflicted advice from financial advisers. His latest is seeking to roll back protection for wetlands and streams. Though derided by Trump as “puddles and ditches” the 2015 EPA law was targeted at elements considered essential to healthy water life.  

And while the nation is hungry for the infrastructure jobs that Obama wanted and Trump says he seeks at a $1 trillion public and private clip, those who have read his infrastructure proposal sense something quite less expansive – mainly tax breaks for his friends.

Megan Crowley, Pompe disease victim and survivor, used
erroneously  by Trump in attack on FDA.
His attack on the drug administration for not acting fast enough on new drugs is his absurd example of over-regulation since the FDA is regarded overall as fast moving and has been criticized instead for sometimes approving drugs that have not been sufficiently tested.

Indeed the back-story of the illness Trump highlighted reveals quite an international testing route.

Trump is also taking credit, perhaps with some justice, for a booming stock market. But as veteran observers quickly noted, what’s good for Wall Street may not be good for the common worker.  The stock market booms when companies cut jobs or are shown ways to cut jobs – or are reassured that a manic-sounding president has calmed down his tone.

The main culprit in job loss is automation not trade deals and even those who opposed NAFTA are slowly realizing that trade deals are a mixed bag

The nation would love the harmony and progress Trump spoke of. But it did not escape Democrats that his pleas for them to cooperate were timed in the speech to suggest cooperation as acquiescence to Trump’s proposals and his assaults on the previous administration.

Speaking of shameless, Trump quoted Lincoln to his advantage but totally out of context.: “The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that the abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.”

Lincoln lived in an era when protectionism was popular since tariffs were the primary way the federal government raised money. This was before the income tax.  Someone needs to tell Trump that a lot has changed in 170 years.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for 

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