During President Trump’s State of the Union address, I was enraged by his racism, his rampant lies, his narrow self-interest and his twisted and cruel vision for our country. None of that is new in Trump’s America. In fact, his speech was all too familiar.
Not only was his speech littered with tired cliches, it tapped into an age old and blood-soaked tactic over and over again: pitting an “innocent” victim against an imagined, and dehumanized, other. This is the story behind some of our countries lowest moments. It is a story that haunts our history.
Time and again, horrific violence is justified – even created – by pitting the dehumanized “aggressor” against an “innocent” victim. As a white woman, I can’t forget how often my image has been invoked to excuse the murder of black and brown people. From Birth of a Nation to Emmett Till to the Central Park Five that Trump tried to have executed, the fabricated threat of violence to white women has been used to excuse unspeakable violence against black and brown bodies.
Donald Trump’s speechwriters sought to present him as a uniter, but he embraced this long and bloody legacy with gusto in his speech. He wrapped himself in sympathetic stories while purposely twisting the truth to justify his violence and his lies.
We simply have to look at whose suffering matters, and whose suffering is erased, to see that President Trump is not interested in helping American families, he’s interested in justifying his agenda of fear mongering and corporate power grabs.
He once again stirred up fear about violence from immigrants threatening our families as he displayed the fresh grief of a family who suffered a tragic loss, while ignoring those killed by (mostly white) men in mass shootings.
He defended his senseless border wall by invoking violence against women – even though he shuts the door to survivors fleeing domestic violence and assault, allowed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to expire, proudly appointed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and ignores rampant sexual assault allegations against border patrol agents themselves.
He lifted up ICE agents fighting human trafficking, while ignoring the ICE agents who rip families apart each day, even snatching parents on their way to pick up their children or women coming to court to get protective orders.
He lifted up the stories of Holocaust survivors, while conveniently forgetting that he declared Nazis and white supremacists “very fine people.” He celebrated the fight against Nazis in World War II while obscuring the violence inspired by his rhetoric and his administration’s embrace of religious discrimination with the Muslim ban.
He proclaimed the sacredness of children while his administration allowed toddlers to die from neglect and abuse in our custody, declared that reuniting traumatized children with their parents was too much of a burden and tried to rip health care away from millions of American families.
Donald Trump has shown us that he’s only interested in our stories when they can be twisted to serve his agenda. He’s only interested in a mother’s grief when he can use it to demonize immigrants. He’s not interested in the grief of women who need safe and compassionate late-term abortions when their pregnancy goes horribly wrong.
He’s only interested in sexual violence if he can use it to stoke fear and justify his wall. He’s only interested in women getting jobs or kids getting cancer treatment when he can use it to paint a false picture of his administration’s “success.”
Whether its grabbing our stories or grabbing us by the pussy, Donald Trump shows his true colors. We must not allow our pain to be weaponized against each other. We must not be seduced by fear or manipulative stories.
We must, instead, embrace the vision Stacey Abrams laid out her powerful response to Trump’s speech: standing together in community where we all count and we all have a chance to thrive.