In President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Speech on Tuesday night, he spent most the address facing the Republican side of Congress, repeating a number of coded phrases he’s repeated in tweets and public speeches in the months since his supporters rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In a speech full of passive-aggressive attacks on activists, immigrants, people of color, people who who aren’t religious, and people who aren’t American citizens, the president seemed content to brush up against the issues that have distracted him in the year since his election instead of directly addressing them. At moments, it felt like an utterance of “those people” wouldn’t feel out of place among the sort of comments that racists make while code-switching in the office.
The concept of the so-called dog whistle, that subtle political message directed at a specific audience, has come into frequent use during the president’s first year in office, though Trump’s body language and penchant for hanging onto vowels a beat too long made it clear several times Tuesday that he remains as inelegant as ever, as one critic noted:
Watchers of the speech documented on social media the several times Trump espoused these sorts of messages.
“If dogwhistles were part of your #sotu drinking game congrats on being drunk 💀,” observed Twitter user April Siese.
The dog whistle has long been used as a political weapon, but culture shifts saw it come into wider use when Trump was in the ascendency in the Eighties. The late New York Times political writer and etymologist William Safire wrote of them this way in his “On Language” column in 2005: “The idea behind the political metaphor — dog-whistle politics — is not who hears your signal, but who does not have the special sensitivity to catch the message,” Safire writes. “Your whistle is pitched high enough to rally your ‘base’ without running the risk of turning out your opposition’s base. Nice turn of phrase.”
Here are a few of Trump’s so-called dog whistles, called out on Twitter during his address.
1. Colin Kaepernick isn’t a real American for protesting:
The silent take-a-knee protest during the National Anthem by professional athletes to bring awareness to police violence against communities of color have spun as a protest of the American flag by Republicans, an issue Trump has tweeted a lot about over the past few months.
We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.
Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.
2. Non-religious people matter less:
In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.”
3. Communities of color should look the other way at racism because Trump says there are more jobs for them now:
Trump repeated a claim he’s made before, acknowledging that, despite the racism he’s stirred up in America, his presidency actually has been economically positive for minority communities.
Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.
4. Advocates for renewable energy development are bad for America:
We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.
5. Protections for environment, community, and quality of life are not as important as building skyscrapers:
Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.
6. The policy of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allowed people who entered America as minors to stay in the country because deportation would put them in danger, poverty, or both, should be ended:
Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.
7. Americans born in the United States suffer the same sort of challenges as DACA recipients, who don’t deserve special status:
Americans are dreamers too.
8. Trump isn’t interested in working toward peaceful diplomacy — i.e., “a magical moment” — during his presidency. Instead, the focus should be on making more weapons:
As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.
9. The terms “chain migration” and “catch-and-release” are dehumanizing, and we should think of immigrants in those terms:
The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration.
Crucially, our plan closes the terrible loopholes exploited by criminals and terrorists to enter our country — and it finally ends the dangerous practice of “catch and release.”
10. Protesting monuments, like those of the Confederacy, is not American:
Atop the dome of this Capitol stands the Statue of Freedom. She stands tall and dignified among the monuments to our ancestors who fought and lived and died to protect her.
Monuments to Washington and Jefferson — to Lincoln and King.
Memorials to the heroes of Yorktown and Saratoga — to young Americans who shed their blood on the shores of Normandy, and the fields beyond. And others, who went down in the waters of the Pacific and the skies over Asia.
And freedom stands tall over one more monument: this one. This Capitol. This living monument to the American people.
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