State of the Union: No Sale

I watched the State of the Union address last night. The talk was dumb. Serves me right for watching television, that old-school tool of social control.

Of course the address was a sales pitch for Donald Trump’s administration. Although pundits may credit the president for not spending the entire time talking about himself, he did spend a lot of the time clapping at his own lines and goosing the crowd to give him more ovations.

There were some genuinely touching moments featuring extraordinary human bravery, suffering, and compassion. We saw the North Koren defector/amputee raising his crutches in the air, the police officer whose family adopted the unborn child of a woman hooked on heroin pleading to give that child a better life, and the family whose daughters were killed by MS-13 gang members.

These stories, however compelling, reminded me of the ubiquitous technique of showing happy people to sell products. There is no real connection between the story or image and the product. One exists to foster an emotional association about the other. All of these stories could have appeared in an Obama State of the Union address. Which is to say that none of this is new with Trump. The technique is likely as ancient as civilization — or at least as old as Methuselah.

Beyond the gambit of emotionally associating Trump and his administration with heroes and those who struggle. What else was he trying to sell? To me the big sale he tried to make is the tax bill. He said it would be good for the middle class and small business, that the new standard deduction eliminates federal taxation for the poorest Americans whose incomes are $24,000 or less per year.

Sounds good, right? And the points are true in a limited sense. But I think the larger picture is troubling. Completely unmentioned is the fact that families like Trump’s receive the lion’s share of benefits: lower “pass-through” rates of taxation than the middle class for partners as opposed to employees, a new tax deduction for private school, and a curtailment of the estate tax meant to prevent the American equivalent of dynastic wealth. Despite all the talk of closing the “carried-interest” loophole that lets certain financial professionals, such as private equity managers, skate by only paying around 23% of income, it survived tax reform. The upshot of all of this is that economic inequality will likely increase, which will be bad for almost everyone. I believe it will also be bad for the rich. Most spiritual traditions warn against greed.

So why would anyone buy it? Same question could be asked about why would anyone buy anything? They’ve been persuaded. The marketing worked.

For me: no sale, but that’s just one man’s opinion.