That sedate blue and white tie was the first tip-off. We’re so used to POTUS’s gaudy red ones that the switch should have made us realize right away that the Trump we were going to hear from last night wasn’t Donald. No, this was his better-behaved identical twin brother Ronald, whose existence is a state secret because he only gets hauled out in emergencies.
Nobody knows what Ronald gets up to the rest of the time. He only made a couple of lackluster speeches during last year’s campaign, and he was certainly nowhere near Washington on Inauguration Day. But he’s always available when Donald really needs him. Anyone who remembers Adam and Stuart Chandler on All My Children knows how this works. They even share the same hairdo, whose frontage looks more than ever like the weird pixel blur TV networks use to stop viewers from lip-reading a bleeped obscenity.
It probably goes without saying that Donald can’t stand his twin. He hates being bored, and Ronald is the dull one who reads from scripts and speaks in more or less contiguous English sentences. But considering that googling “Trump Administration” and “chaos” now gets you 1,250,000 hits (and counting), Reince Priebus probably didn’t have much choice except to overrule Bannon for once, open up the crypt and hunt for a nice tie.
A nation needed reassuring, after all. So, for that matter, did Capitol Hill Republicans, who by now feel a little rattled whenever their Fearless Leader decides to get in the public’s face for some free-associating blather. Even though he only knows how to do it phonetically, Ronald is the one who speaks their lingo.
No wonder they were thrilled to see him instead of his sibling, who doubtless spent Tuesday night sulkily mauling platters of junk food and watching reruns of The Patty Duke Show. Meanwhile, up in the gallery, Melania Trump kept looking around in a fascinated way, presumably because she’s scarcely ever been in our nation’s capital before and it’s all so interesting and strange.
Anyway, Ronald knew what he had to get out of the way right up top, so he did. He packed Black History Month, civil rights, a condemnation of anti-Semitic vandalism and “last week’s shooting in Kansas City” and a reminder that “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms” into his speech’s 77-word opening paragraph. He did it with all the conviction of someone whose twin has never lost so much as a wink’s worth of sleep over any of these topics, but at least it did get said. Then he moved on to the larger task of swaddling this administration’s ongoing love affair with menace, from illegal immigration to “Radical – Islamist – Terrorism” (man, did he savor reintroducing that once verboten term), in newly temperate rhetoric.
Supposedly, Bannon and kinky neo-Fascist cultist Stephen Miller wrote this speech, as they did Trump’s inaugural address. But either they had help or they’ve gotten cleverer. Cribs from JFK were everywhere, from outright steals (“friend or foe”) to more oblique borrowings: “That torch is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world.” Of course, lighting up the world may mean something different to Bannon and Miller than it does to most of us—kaboom!—but never mind.
Cunningly, they found a way for Ronald to demonize the word “sanctuary,” as in sanctuary cities: “We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.” They turned Betsy DeVos’s mania for scuttling what’s left of public education under the banner of school choice into a slogan that might confuse even liberals into applauding: “Education is the civil-rights issue of our time.” Even the night’s oddest bit of imagery – “the chorus became an earthquake,” referring to Trump’s supporters – just went to show how effective the right mixed metaphor can be.
As for the MIA Donald (“But Patty’s only seen the sights/A girl can see in Brooklyn Heights!”), his ghost did heave into view a few times. After Ronald declared his support for NATO—whew!—but made it contingent on our alliance partners kicking in with more bucks, Donald interrupted, telethon-style: “In fact, I can tell you the money is pouring in. Very nice!” Naturally, his border wall was “a great, great wall,” though he did refrain from calling it “beautiful.”
Introducing the family members of people killed by illegal immigrants was probably Donald’s nadir, because indignation that selective and baiting is never pretty. But he also fouled up saluting Carryn Owens, widow of slain Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, by bragging “I think you just broke the record” for lengthy Congressional applause. To say the least, those aren’t the words of a POTUS who feels her pain.
Maybe predictably, topping the list of unmentioned (or should that be unmentionable?) topics was Russia. But almost as notable was the absence of any olive branch held out to the intelligence community he’s famously at odds with, even in the form of boilerplate praise. The hated media didn’t rate one either, freedom of the press apparently still qualifying as an obstruction to making America great again.
If Ronald Trump impressed you all the same, keep in mind that he’s already vanished back into his undisclosed location. It must be a dreary life, trying on thoughtful expressions in front of a mirror for months on end until the next time his sibling needs him. But who knows? He presumably watched the old Kevin Kline movie Dave a few dozen times, and maybe he’ll get restless enough to try playing a neat trick on Reince and Bannon one of these days.