In State of the Union speech, Trump comes out as fem­i­nist

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -

So Don­ald Trump is a cham­pion of women. Who knew?

He’d been hid­ing that facet of him­self di­a­bol­i­cally well all these years, as he grabbed them by parts of their bod­ies that news­pa­pers try not to men­tion and showed them spe­cial de­ri­sion on Twit­ter, com­par­ing

Stormy Daniels to a horse and Omarosa Mani­gault to a dog. A shal­low, ca­sual ob­server might rush to judg­ment and con­clude that he didn’t fully re­spect the op­po­site sex.

But his re­marks and bear­ing dur­ing his State of the Union ad­dress on Tues­day night surely cor­rected that im­pres­sion.

He beamed at the rows of women in white, fe­male House mem­bers who were seated to­gether and dressed in a sin­gle hue to make a state­ment about their progress and their strength.

It was to them that he tar­geted his as­ser­tion that “no one has ben­e­fited more from our thriv­ing econ­omy than women, who have filled 58 per­cent of the newly cre­ated jobs last year.”

He then ad­dressed them even more di­rectly: “Ex­actly one cen­tury af­ter Con­gress passed the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment giv­ing women the right to vote, we also have more women serv­ing in Con­gress than at any time be­fore.”

In­deed we do. There are 102 in the House. But here’s the thing: That group in­cludes 89 Democrats and just 13 Repub­li­cans. His­tory was made cour­tesy of the party that he worked hard in the midterms to de­feat, that he works hard all the time to di­min­ish and that he re­peat­edly trolled in the rest of his re­marks on Tues­day night. If he’d had his way and sway, those rows of white would have been sparser. But he nei­ther ex­hib­ited any aware­ness of that nor made any res­o­lu­tion to im­prove his party’s stub­bornly mis­er­able record of re­cruit­ing and pro­mot­ing fe­male can­di­dates.

In­stead he basked in the women’s — and the Demo­cratic Party’s — ac­com­plish­ment as if it were his own. “That’s great,” he told them. “Re­ally great. And con­grat­u­la­tions.”

It’s nice to be Trump. His brag­ging is un­en­cum­bered by his past. His self-sat­is­fac­tion crowds out any self-ex­am­i­na­tion. What he needs isn’t a fact check. It’s a re­al­ity check, be­cause his worst fic­tions aren’t sta­tis­ti­cal. They’re spir­i­tual.

He pre­tends to care about matters that don’t move him in the least. He feigns blame­less­ness in sit­u­a­tions where he’s en­tirely cul­pa­ble and takes credit in cir­cum­stances where he has more to apol­o­gize for. He presents him­self in a pos­i­tive light, as one kind of per­son, when his ac­tions paint him in a neg­a­tive light, as a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter al­to­gether. Many of his big­gest lies are to him­self.

The State of the Union ad­dress was a herky­jerky tes­ta­ment to that. I say herky-jerky be­cause it was six or eight or maybe 10 speeches in one, car­oming with­out warn­ing from a plea for unity to a tirade about the bor­der; from some boast about Amer­i­can glory un­der Trump to some reverie about Amer­i­can glory be­fore Trump (yes, it ex­isted!); from a hur­ried leg­isla­tive wish list to a fi­nal stretch of er­satz po­etry that read like lines from a batch of de­fec­tive or re­main­dered Hall­mark cards. As much as Trump needed mod­esty, his para­graphs needed tran­si­tions.

But there was a leit­mo­tif run­ning through the dis­parate patches, and it was Trump’s readi­ness to re­assem­ble re­cent his­tory and rein­vent him­self.

If you didn’t know that he was a cham­pion of women, then you prob­a­bly also didn’t know that he saved us from war with North Korea. He alone can fix it! And ac­cord­ing to him, he did fix it, or is fix­ing it, never mind what his in­tel­li­gence chiefs told the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee just last week. They had doubts about his sup­posed suc­cess on that front. He doesn’t. So he’ll cling to his ver­sion. It’s the one that flat­ters him.

On Tues­day night Trump sud­denly cared about di­ver­sity and mi­nori­ties, and aban­doned much of the di­vi­sive lex­i­con that he had used over the first two years of his pres­i­dency, most mem­o­rably when he at­tached a fe­cal ep­i­thet to coun­tries with largely black pop­u­la­tions.

On Tues­day night he ached for Amer­i­cans with HIV or AIDS. I can’t re­call them be­ing on his radar much be­fore, but I do re­call that he or other mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion worked to ex­pel trans­gen­der people from the mil­i­tary, ap­point ho­mo­pho­bic judges and ar­gue against civil rights pro­tec­tions for LGBT Amer­i­cans.

On Tues­day night he ex­co­ri­ated wealthy Amer­i­cans who ben­e­fit from un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants even as those im­mi­grants (sup­pos­edly) di­min­ish less wealthy Amer­i­cans. He made no ac­knowl­edg­ment of his own use of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants at the Trump golf re­sort in Bed­min­ster, New Jer­sey. Two of them, in fact, were in­vited by Democrats to the speech.

On Tues­day night he said that we Amer­i­cans “must never ig­nore the vile poi­son of an­ti­Semitism or those who spread its ven­omous creed.” And he him­self has not ig­nored those who spread it; rather, he has de­fended and en­cour­aged them — by ac­cept­ing their sup­port dur­ing his cam­paign, by re-tweet­ing them, by in­sist­ing that some of the white na­tion­al­ists who marched in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia, and railed against Jews were good people.

On Tues­day night he called for comity. He yearned for bi­par­ti­san­ship, at least when he wasn’t modeling the op­po­site. “We must re­ject the pol­i­tics of re­venge, re­sis­tance and ret­ri­bu­tion,” he said, and it was like an al­lit­er­a­tive butcher declar­ing that we must re­ject red beef. He urged that we “rekin­dle the bonds of love and loy­alty and mem­ory that link us to­gether as cit­i­zens, as neigh­bors.” Might he try out some of that rekin­dling on his Twit­ter ac­count, which, even in the hours be­fore his speech, was a font less of love than of spite? Pres­i­dent, heal thy­self.

But most in­con­gru­ous of all was his fem­i­nism, clos­eted un­til Tues­day night. He framed his con­cerns about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in terms of mi­grant women be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted on the way north to our bor­der with Mex­ico or sold into pros­ti­tu­tion by traf­fick­ers.

And then there was the shout-out to women in the work­force. Dur­ing it, fe­male House mem­bers stood, and some pumped their fists in the air. He reg­is­tered sur­prise at first, fol­lowed by sat­is­fac­tion, as he seemed to re­al­ize that their mo­ment could also be his mo­ment; that he could, for this one in­stant, hal­lu­ci­nate mu­tual re­spect and pan­tomime com­mon cause; that he could just slough off all his sins and latch on to a spu­ri­ous grace.

“Don’t sit yet,” he told them when he feared that they would end their cel­e­bra­tion too soon, be­fore his next great pro­nounce­ment. “You’re go­ing to like this.”

Even the newly, briefly, falsely sen­si­tive ver­sion of Trump couldn’t lose his bossy streak — or stop hun­ger­ing for, and pre­dict­ing, the next round of ap­plause.

FRANK BRUNI is a colum­nist with The New York Times.

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