Donald Trump comes in several different shades of orange. He can appear as a braggart power broker, a pouty businessman, and a bumbling president.
But whatever role he's playing, Trump strives to be the guy in charge—the deal-maker, the CEO, the decision-maker-in-chief. Trump always gets the last word in all-caps. ALWAYS!
In a strange way, the more unhinged Trump appears, the more in control of the situation he really is. The pathological self-aggrandizement, querulous repetition, and ungrammatical non sequiturs are all telltale signs that Trump is using his own words.
And that's what made his address to Congress on Tuesday night so frightening. It was scripted fascism, and those were clearly somebody else's words in his mouth.
Talking heads were quick to applaud Trump for acting "presidential." But the bar has been set so low that pundits are probably confusing "coherent" with "presidential." In one of the rare instances since his inauguration, Trump wasn't ranting like the last guy in the bar as the waitress puts the stools up. He wasn't yelling at the media, bragging about his Electoral College victory, or blathering on about how his friend "Jim" is too frightened to return to Paris.
But Trump's speech to Congress was only presidential by fascist standards. What Trump laid out, in the methodical words penned by an ideologue behind the throne, was a frightening vision of a country under siege by foreign hordes that are trying to establish a "beachhead of terrorism" to convert the United States into a "sanctuary for extremists."
Trump depicted a dark world in which the U.S. is fighting "a network of lawless savages" that it must "extinguish …from our planet."
Trump was talking about ISIS in that instance, but his fear-mongering over foreigners wasn't limited to Islamic State fighters any more than the travel ban was limited to Muslims from seven countries. The narrative of barbarians at the gate was woven throughout Trump's speech, which seemed to build on George W. Bush's worldview of "You're either with us, or against us." But Trump's view is even racist and alienating by W's standards.
From his call to build a border wall as "a very effective weapon against drugs and crime," to reiterating his appallingly cynical pledge to create a new Homeland Security Office to "serve American victims" of crimes committed by immigrants, Trump's whole speech was to lay out a dichotomy of us versus them, or "America first" in Trumpspeak.
According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country. We have seen the attacks at home - from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and yes, even the World Trade Center.
Notably absent from his speech was any mention of homegrown terrorists or domestic hate crimes. U.S. crime, in Trump's world, is an inner-city problem that seems to be limited to urban areas with large African-American populations. But the real threat, according to Trump, comes from abroad—murderous gangbangers from the South, and "radical Islamic terrorism" from the Middle East.
Our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States. We are also taking strong measures to protect our Nation from Radical Islamic Terrorism.
Like in George Orwell's 1984, it doesn't matter if we're at war with Eastasia or Eurasia, because we've always been at war with Eastasia or Eurasia. The foreign threat is always knocking. And all foreigners are suspect.
That point was underscored by Trump's guest list, which was mostly family members of people who had been killed by foreigners—"viciously murdered by an illegal immigrant gang member" or "viciously gunned down by an illegal immigrant." The victims were real, tearful faces, silently thanking the president. The perpetrators were nameless, faceless immigrants from unspecified foreign lands.
The most emotional moment of the night was when Trump called out Carryn Owens, the widow of fallen U.S. Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens, who died during a raid in Yemen "battling against terrorism and securing our nation." As Owens stood to applause and looked tearfully toward heaven, Trump silently counted each second of applause for the American killed by foreigners.
When the speech was over, Trump lackeys congratulated themselves on a "home run"—actually, make that a "grand slam."
But even normally critical pundits said they thought Trump looked "presidential."
That's dangerous thinking. Calling Trump's fear-mongering "presidential" is a first step to normalizing fascism. It's granting acceptance to the dangerous fascists skulking behind the golden curtains of the Oval Office.
It also sets the stage for making Trump's Muslim Ban 2.0, which is expected to get rolled out in the coming days, seem softer and more acceptable. A more "presidential" version of a ban that was considered untenable just a month ago.
When a country loses sight of the center, things fall apart. In an America where Trump's speech can be called "presidential," it'll be slippery slope to despotism.