President Trump delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, just a day before the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote to acquit him in the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. Trump’s speech, which focused heavily on the economy and immigration, sounded at times like a campaign rally, with Republican lawmakers chanting “Four more years!” He never once mentioned his impeachment trial. Prior to the speech, Trump refused to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand, and once the speech was over, Pelosi was seen on television ripping up her copy of Trump’s remarks. She later called the speech a “manifesto of mistruths.” Several Democrats, including Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib, Tim Ryan, Seth Moulton and Bill Pascrell, walked out during Trump’s address. Some Democrats boycotted the night altogether, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Maxine Waters of California, Al Green of Texas, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Frederica Wilson of Florida. We’re joined by Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept, and Roberto Lovato, author of the forthcoming book “Unforgetting: A Memoir of Revolution and Redemption” and co-founder of the campaign #DignidadLiteraria, which seeks to elevate the voices of Latinx writers in U.S. literature. At the State of the Union address, Trump was “throwing red meat to his base,” Fang says. “It was clear, from anyone watching this: This was a campaign rally speech — Trump previewing his election message for 2020.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, President Trump delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night, just a day before the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote to acquit him in the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. Trump’s speech sounded at times like a campaign rally, with Republican lawmakers chanting “Four more years.” Trump focused much of his speech on the economy and immigration. He never once mentioned his impeachment trial.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And my fellow citizens: Three years ago, we launched the great American comeback. Tonight I stand before you to share the incredible results. Jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, and our country is thriving and highly respected again.
AMY GOODMAN: The night was filled with drama of a reality TV show. Prior to the speech, President Trump refused to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand. Once his speech was over, Pelosi was seen on television ripping up her copy of the speech from the podium. She later called the speech a “manifesto of mistruths.”
A number of Democrats walked out during Trump’s address. Congressmember Rashida Tlaib walked out after Trump touted the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Ohio Congressmember Tim Ryan walked out, then tweeted, “I’ve had enough. It’s like watching professional wrestling. It’s all fake.” Massachusetts Congressmember Seth Moulton and Bill Pascrell of New Jersey also walked out.
A number of Democrats boycotted the night altogether, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Maxine Waters of California, presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Al Green of Texas, Bobby Rush of Illinois, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Frederica Wilson of Florida. None of them came.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During Trump’s speech, the father of one of the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, was thrown out after he shouted about his daughter Jaime’s death. Fred Guttenberg was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s guest at the State of the Union. He interrupted Trump’s speech when Trump touted his pro-gun positions.
And Melania Trump bestowed the Medal of Freedom on right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has spread racist conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama, among other racist lies.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll have more on the State of the Union as we’re joined by two guests: Lee Fang, investigative journalist at The Intercept, still with us from San Francisco, and, here in New York, the award-winning journalist Roberto Lovato and the author of the forthcoming book Unforgetting: A Memoir of Revolution and Redemption.
Lee, let’s start with you. Give us an overview of the State of the Union address and what exactly took place last night.
LEE FANG: Well, look, the Constitution provides that the president is expected to correspond with Congress with his or her legislative priorities. Over the last 100 years, this has manifested in the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. And over the last decade or so, it’s really become more of a partisan political theater that’s divorced from the actual legislative priorities of the president. It was clear, from anyone watching this: This was a campaign rally speech — Trump previewing his election message for 2020, talking about the success of the economy, throwing red meat to his base on guns, abortion, talk radio, Rush Limbaugh.
And, you know, I think there’s an interesting dynamic here, too, in that it looked like Trump was pivoting back to his 2016 message, actually trying to coopt Democrats by talking about how he would protect Social Security and Medicare, increase social spending, boost infrastructure spending, tackle drug prices. This is kind of unusual for a Republican in the modern era, but that was the campaign message that Trump ran on in 2016. Simultaneously, he painted a really lurid picture of immigrant crime, of terrorists murdering Americans, and the need for law enforcement and ICE to keep us safe. So he’s simultaneously coopting these core economic ideas from Democrats while pushing xenophobia and hate and demonizing immigrants, demonizing foreigners. This is the combination that we’re seeing in the populist right all over the Western industrial world. This is the campaign message and strategy that Boris Johnson used in the December election in the U.K. This is what the hard right and popular right has used in Poland, in Hungary, coopting the left on some core economic ideas while demonizing immigrants and boosting xenophobia.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Lee, let’s go back to hear President Trump speaking last night.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast, and, wonderfully, they are rising fastest for low-income workers, who have seen a 16% pay increase since my election. This is a blue-collar boom. Real median household income is now at the highest level ever recorded. Since my election, U.S. stock markets have soared 70%, adding more than $12 trillion to our nation’s wealth, transcending anything anyone believed was possible. This is a record. It is something that every country in the world is looking up to, they admire.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Trump talking about the economic accomplishments of his administration. Of course, Lee, in that, when he mentions the 16% rise in the income of low-income workers, never mentions the fact that it’s largely the result of a $15-an-hour movement sweeping the country, having nothing to do with the administration, but actually with a popular movement that developed to raise wages. He also never mentioned, perhaps the signature accomplishment of his administration, his tax reform, his tax bill. Wondering your sense on his speaking about his economic accomplishments.
LEE FANG: Juan, that’s an incredibly important point, and I think it implicitly shows the weakness of Trump’s actual legislative accomplishment. His biggest legislative accomplishment by far was his tax cut bill, that’s over $5 trillion over 10 years, weighted mostly to wealthy individuals and corporations, boosting the stock market as corporations use that extra cash to buy back their stock shares, enriching their investors. But, you know, for Trump, who’s focusing on his re-election, I think he’s implicitly acknowledging that his own base isn’t happy with his biggest legislative accomplishment. He doesn’t want to talk about all the trillions of dollars he’s shifting upwards to CEOs and wealthy individuals. Instead, he’s talking about kind of vague economic stats and, again, pivoting to the red meat of cultural conservative values.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s return to President Trump speaking last night.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy, slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements.
AMY GOODMAN: So, gutting regulations. Lee Fang, you just did an incredible piece, “The Playbook for Poisoning the Earth.” Explain what you found.
LEE FANG: Well, look, this investigation took us over a year. We have lots of exclusive emails and lobbying documents. But the kind of big-picture view of this is that over the last 30 years there’s a new chemical compound, neonicotinoids. They’re now the most widely used insecticide in the world. And they are increasingly blamed for insect extinctions, nontarget insects, all across the world. That’s why we’re seeing disappearing bumblebees and solitary bees, dragonflies and butterflies. And I know we don’t have time to go deeply into this piece, but when Trump talks about cutting regulations, cutting red tape, just in the last week, his EPA rubber-stamped the reapproval of these dangerous pesticides. Meanwhile, the EU is moving to ban them. This is the reason that we’re seeing an ecological collapse and, in many areas, a loss of biodiversity across the country.