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

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

February 7th, 2019 by Frank Bruni / New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

Members of Congress cheer after President Donald Trump acknowledges more women in Congress during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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.

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 herky-jerky 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 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 anti-Semitism 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.

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.

The New York Times

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315
Email: webeditor@timesfreepress.com