Trump’s national emergency speech was more than just asinine

Griffin Perrault, Senior Writer

Rhetoric has always been more art than science. The classical method of oration, often associated with the ancient Athenians, forms a neat balance of argument and persuasion which seeks to simultaneously persuade the general audience and refute detractors. However, this is only one of many means of skillfully convincing others of a given position; others throughout history have opted for approaches from fiery polemics to icy rationalism to moral appeal. Yet, not one whit of this artistic sensibility, tempered from literally thousands of years of human communication, surfaced during President Donald Trump’s unintelligible speech on Feb. 15, which declared a national emergency on the southern border.


It is important to recognize that the impetus of building a wall on the southern border has been, and will always be, motivated by a disdain for poor foreigners. However, even discounting for a moment the moral, economic, and political absurdity of materializing Trump’s perennial “wall,” let alone through a nonexistent national emergency, the actual speech itself is the vessel of particular nausea in the mind of the writer. The speech shares with all other Trump speeches some particular hallmarks: unintentional anaphora, arrant dog-whistling (describing immigration from Mexico as an “invasion”), and casting of aspersions on his own facts. In classic Trump fashion, the President also engaged in extravagant gasconade about his first-term successes and fulfillment of campaign promises, coupled with unsubstantiated derision of the Obama Administration. “Let me tell you, the previous administration, it was heading south, and it was going fast,” Trump said.


But these moves are all to be – relatively speaking – expected of Trump, a President who has frequently demonstrated his incapacity to deliver a speech that is not teeming with fabrication and bravado. It is, rather, Trump’s increasingly animalizing sentiments regarding foreigners and petty criminals that makes this speech not simply ludicrous, but possibly dangerous. One of the most remarkable things Trump seems to advocate for in his speech is a Rodrigo Duterte-esque death penalty policy for drug dealers, an idea which he seeks to emulate from a similar Chinese policy enacted under Deng Xiaoping. He concluded this section of his speech with the ominous denouement, “You can end the drug problem, you can end it a lot faster than you think.”


He also engaged in a lengthy denigration of the gang MS-13, whose members he referred to multiple times as “monsters” and applauded U.S. policy of “tak[ing] them out by the thousands.” Discussion of the Central American “immigrant caravans” included much hand-wringing by Trump about how “if we didn’t have the wall up [in Tijuana] and if we didn’t have the wall secured and strengthened, they [immigrants] would have walked right through, they’d be welcomed to the United States.” Trump inflected the statement to imply that this situation would be somehow detrimental to the United States in a meaningful way.


But perhaps the most odious of Trump’s offenses during this speech was his unwavering exploitation of “angel moms,” mothers and other family members of relatives who were killed by illegal immigrants. At one point, Trump singles out a widow in the crowd and explains her presence, noting that “[her] husband was just killed in Maryland. Incredible man, just killed. Beautiful children, won’t be seeing their father again.” Looking beyond Trump’s absolute incompetence to express condolences, we may find that the bulk of the reasoning behind this juxtaposition is to heavily imply (if not plainly state) that immigrants are inhuman criminals who perpetuate crime in our country and are, on the whole, a danger to American values and security.


In all likelihood, this speech–and the radical implications of Trump’s waxing racism outlined therein–will not stay long in the public consciousness. We will hear speeches far more puerile and far less factual, and policy proposals to complement them. But the concern is less what the speech actually states and more what it signals: that the pivot of Trump’s attention–and therefore the collective attention of his enormously powerful support base – is focused more sharply than ever on the dehumanization of foreigners in the hopes of achieving its jingoistic, racist, public policy.

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