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9 January 2019

Teleprompter Trump was right about America’s “crisis of the soul” – but not the way he meant it

The president’s much-hyped Oval Office address was both anticlimactic and depressing.

By Nicky Woolf

Well, what a colossal anticlimax that was. Trump’s Oval Office address – the first of his presidency – was preceded by much hand-wringing by the networks over the relative morality of carrying a live, unfiltered straight-to-camera address from a president who just the previous day had referred to the media as “the real Opposition Party” and “truly the Enemy of the People.”

What would he use it to say? Would he declare a state of emergency over the refusal by Democrats to give funding for his border wall? Anything could happen. There was a feeling of anticipation as newsrooms across the country and around the world tuned in.

Sometimes it feels like Trump is being controlled by a random number generator – or maybe one of those 50/50 machines based on the decay of a radium atom like that in the box that contains Schrödinger’s cat. Some days he will be absolute deep-fried bonkers with nut sauce, and other days relatively tame, lacking in the kind of fizzing chaotic energy that often seems to drive him. This latter Trump was what appeared Tuesday night: a squinting, haltingly-spoken, ordinary, elderly man.

The squinting is what makes it not random at all, actually. The two Trumps are Real Trump, and Teleprompter Trump, the latter of whose visible concentration on trying to read the words on the screen before him overcomes his natural instinct to riff.

Last night, it was Teleprompter Trump who appeared before us, which we probably could have predicted given the straight-to-camera format. His words were a lame rip-off of soaring oratory, written most likely by Stephen Miller, his ethnonationalist king-of-the-douchbags senior adviser, who is steering the White House’s immigration policy. You could almost hear Miller’s self-satisfied adenoidal voice behind the president’s when he called the situation at America’s southern border “a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul”.

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Of course, the situation at the southern border is all of those things, except in the opposite sense to what the president meant – a humanitarian crisis of children ripped from their parents by ICE agents, a crisis of America’s heart and soul, as the nation under its idiot president with his racist advisers looks at the inscription on the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” – and appears to say, in Miller’s hideous adenoidal voice: “nah”.

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