The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

I was 11 when the world watched in awe as America re-elected President George W. Bush. I hardly had a grasp on complex issues of policy as a pre-teen, but can distinctly remember noticing a stark difference between Bush and Kerry. Just from watching them on TV, I could tell they were not men of equal caliber. A silly man who choked on pretzels and made up fake words, up against a serious, stoic war hero. But it happened nonetheless. Ten years later, when I was living in Spain, my host mom recounted watching it happen from across the world, saying, “we all understood how it happened the first time, but we were genuinely shocked when there was a perfect opportunity to fix it, and it still happened again.” Until last night, I really could never wrap my brain around how W. was re-elected in the midst of such a disastrous first term. And now I know.

President Trump addressed a Joint Session of Congress for the first time last night in a not-quite-State-of-The-Union speech (we don’t give it the SOTU label until after the first year). It was a speech that would barely be considered acceptable by any other president in history. Laden with exaggerations, cherry-picked statistics, and some flat-out lies, the address was sloppy and disconcerting. Yet of course, today the coverage is congratulatory – Trump really did it! He managed to get through an entire speech without mortifying the country on an international scale!

I believe it was George W. Bush himself who coined the term, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Throughout the campaign, Candidate Trump was graded on a heavy curve. His debate performances were lauded as “better than expected” and always followed by media talk of a possible “pivot.” Never mind Hillary Clinton’s three consecutive perfect debate performances, if Trump didn’t literally pull his pants down and take a shit on the floor, he won.

But despite the fact that campaign rallies are literally already happening, Candidate Trump is gone for now. We’re facing a new President Trump and it seems the curved grading system is here to stay throughout the administration. What this means in practical terms is that our country is settling for less than it deserves. This speech was far from impressive, and we would demand more from anyone else.

Trump claimed that 1 in 5 work-eligible adults are out of a job. The unemployment rate is actually 4.8%. He claimed ICE agents were removing “bad ones” as he spoke. They’re detaining hospital patients with brain tumors, DACA recipients, victims of domestic violence, and long-respected pillars of small-town communities. He initiated a lengthy standing ovation for the widow of a Navy SEAL who died in the failed Yemen raid last month. A few hours earlier, he flippantly blamed Obama, his trusted generals, and everyone but himself for the SEAL’s death. He promised the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines would be built with American Steel. The steel has already been procured – from Russia and India. He insisted that undocumented immigrants pose a threat to Americans’ safety. They’re actually less likely than natural-born Americans to commit crimes.

He lies to us, and he doesn’t even do it with style. Now, I recognize that many people voted for him in part because of his lack of refinement. Never mind the fact that women and minority candidates are not afforded this same privilege of being sloppy or uninformed on basic issues, but that part is over – now he is the president. But despite the title change, the blatant lies and striking lack of policy knowledge have persisted. Don’t we deserve more? Don’t we want more? Not just for those who voted against him, who always expected more of their leader, but also for those who voted for him. We should want more for them too. They voted on the promise of jobs returning and safety increasing, and their president is lying to them about it all in a whopping mess of a speech. They’re told, by a media Trump has labeled their “enemy,” that what they heard last night was sufficient. Maybe the media are the enemy, but for a reason untold; they want the American people to think this is all they should expect of a president.

Then-President Bush rejected “low expectations” for public school students as paternalistic, and when applied to minority students, bigoted. Somehow, though, the bar for our president has been set so low, that when he just barely stumbles over it, he gets a cookie.

Now I understand how we re-elected the man who broke the world. And based on the commendation Trump is receiving for a speech that couldn’t compete with Clinton on her worst day, I fear we’re going to do it again.

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