- President Donald Trump took to the Oval Office on Tuesday to give a televised primetime address on immigration.
- The federal government has been shut down since December 21, after Trump refused to sign a federal budget that did not include billions of dollars in funding for a border wall.
- Both liberals and conservatives criticised the media for airing a speech that contained little to no newsworthy information while giving Trump a huge national platform.
As the federal government shutdown extended into its 18th day, President Donald Trump took to the Oval Office to give a seven-minute televised primetime address on immigration.
The federal government has been shut down since December 21, after Trump refused to sign a federal budget that did not include billions of dollars in funding for a wall on the US’ Southern border, one of his signature campaign promises.
The speech came amid speculation that the administration would declare a national emergency and employ emergency powers to bypass Congress and direct the US military to build the wall.
But it mainly restated the administration’s familiar talking points and did not include such a declaration, leaving both liberals and conservatives disappointed with the media for giving Trump airtime and frustrated with the lack of progress to resolve the shutdown.
No new narrative, little new substance
Trump’s speech essentially repackaged many of the same talking points on immigration he’s pushed for years, providing the American public with no important proposals or new information.
Trump also used the address to repeat common false or misleading claims on drug smuggling, crime committed by immigrants, and the proposed USMCA trade deal with Mexico “paying” for the wall, illustrated with a rotation of gruesome anecdotes recounting violent crimes committed by unauthorised immigrants.
“There haven’t been nearly enough conservatives demanding Trump explain why he waited for two years, until Democrats controlled the house, to take this stand about the wall,”wrote right-wing blogger and commentator Matt Walsh. “Nice speech last night. He could have given it a year ago. Why didn’t he?”
The Democrats’ response spurred Twitter memes instead of discussion
All the networks that aired Trump’s speech also aired a response from Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When they took to the podium together to deliver a response to Trump’s remarks, social media went wild over their steely “disappointed parent” gazes, making jokes and memes out of their appearance.
The mockery around Schumer and Pelosi’s response overshadowed separate responses from top progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a potential 2020 presidential contender.
Everyone ended up mad at the media
“Trump just made his first nationally televised reelection speech,” wrote MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell.
Trump’s reelection campaign sent a slew of texts and emails to supporters fundraising off the speech just hours prior.
“The entertainment networks who provided time made a huge mistake. Not one word of news in Trump speech,” O’Donnell said.
Jennifer Rubin, a center-right columnist for the Washington Post, described the networks as having been “conned” by Trump after the New York Times reported that Trump told TV executives he thought the speech was useless.
“There was no news in the speech, and a politician just opening his mouth and saying stuff isn’t news by definition,”said BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
While multiple news outlets committed to real-time fact checking of Trump’s speech, some publications drew ire for their iterations.
The Associated Press was slammed for providing a fact-check claiming that Democrats were partially responsible for the shutdown, given that the shutdown began in December when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress. (The Democratic-controlled House was sworn in on January 3.)
“[Trump] is using the performative element of the address to tap into people’s emotions (esp. fear). You can’t fact-check emotions,” wrote behavioural scientist Caroline Orr.
“Our brains are not equipped to deal with lies when they come at us repeatedly in such a high volume. Repeated exposure to a claim, regardless of whether or not it’s true, increases its acceptance as true b/c repetition leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to acceptance,” she added.
The shutdown battle is right back where it started
Ultimately, neither Trump’s speech, the Democrats’ responses, or the memes did much to the move the needle in terms of resolving the government shutdown, observers said.
“No, not at all,” said CNN congressional correspondent Manu Raju when asked if Democrats and Republicans were any closer to coming to a deal to re-open the government.
“People view it as a completely opposite. Things are dug in both sides, and the speech did very little to change the dynamic on Capitol Hill, where the Democratic leaders are not willing to go anywhere near the President’s $US5.7 billion dollars for the wall,” Raju added.
There has been bipartisan support in the House for legislation to reopen the government, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he will not bring legislation that Trump will not sign to the Senate floor.
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