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Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, and Norman Solomon: Trump's SOTU

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Trump's SOTU Calls for More Spending on Nuclear Weapons and Galvanizes Extremism

Max Blumenthal, Phyllis Bennis, and Norman Solomon discuss President Trump's State of the Union. Rather than deliver a serious address, they say Trump offered a simplistic narrative designed to galvanize extremism.

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SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Washington DC, President Trump delivered the State of the Union on Tuesday night to discuss foreign policy angles of his speech. I'm being joined by a very esteemed panel of guests. Phyllis Bennis, she is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Max Blumenthal, he's the senior editor of the Gray Zone Project, now housed here at the Real News Network. And, Norman Solomon, a journalist with exposefacts.org, and he's also the co-founder of rootsaction.org. I thank you all for joining me today.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Glad to be here.

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SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let me go to Phyllis first, but I just want to say that I will give each of you about a minute and a half at the beginning of this conversation to lay out your key strokes in terms of the speech delivered by Trump. So, Phyllis, let me start with you.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well I would say that the position of Trump's nation is extreme. This was a speech designed to placate his base. The beginnings of it, the first 45 minutes or more, was really very much a campaign-style speech. He bragged, taking responsibility for everything that he believes to be good that's happened in this country, and I think that it was interesting that he spent very little time on the international issues. That was very much at the end of his speech, and with really no new changes in foreign policy. He repeated positions, extremist positions, that are guaranteed to be popular with his base, including keeping Guantanamo Prison open and sending more terrorists there, including generalized threats, but again, nothing new and different against North Korea.

With Iran, calling the Iran nuclear deal terrible, the worst deal ever and calling on Congress to deal with it, without any specifics. So no new announcements of actual policy shifts. Bragging about planning to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and I think in that context, again, he's playing to his base bragging about what he's already done, but with very little intentionality of what comes next. This was very much an announcement that the extremism of his policies are going to continue, that the positions that he has staked out so far are not going to change. There was a rather extraordinary moment when he talked about the need for militarism, really, without using the term.

He said that complacency and concessions only invite aggression, and that weakness is a straight path to conflict, and that only unmatched power is the surest means of our defense. So, it was essentially another assertion of raw power as the basis of his foreign policy, while bragging in only slightly coded terms about the racism that undergirds his actual policies, whether it be on the questions of immigration, the questions of the response towards terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. Racism at the core of his policies, that is to remain unchanged.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Norman, your take on the speech?

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well it was really a reaffirmation of a kind of extreme, "Let's brag about what an empire we are," but coated in just the most glorious light. Really, what we're seeing is a normalization of what Phyllis I think quite properly referred to as extremism, and to some extent, that's inevitable. You make somebody president, you put him in that kind of environment with the Congress around him, and despite the opposition from many in the mass media, still, the sort of reflexive deference to him that we saw on cable TV tonight ... the reality is that Trump has normalized what are extremely militaristic positions, and he's been able to drag the so-called "center" more in his direction.

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So the terms that the debate takes place upon, and of course, he talked about at the beginning wanting common ground, but what he really wants and is largely achieving, or rather the people who are hitched to his wagon are achieving, is a way to drag the entire debate such it has been on foreign policy in the U.S. more and more to a flagrant and increasingly simplistic narrative. And of course that speech was basically about narrative. It was somewhere in the realm of, "See Dick, see Jane, see Spot, see them run." It would be hard to conceive of a more simplistic worldview. But of course, it's in the service of neoliberal economic agendas and extreme ramped-up militarism.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Max. Let's get your take on this.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, yeah. I agree with all of the comments by Phyllis and Norman. I sort of regret agreeing to this because I had to watch that, and I now feel like I'm 20 years older. I mean, I'm very glad to be here, but that was one of the most atrocious State of the Unions I've seen. Trump's delivery was lethargic and lugubrious. It was basically a reality show with Trump narrating the heroic stories of various American archetypes held together with a Kulturkampf, with a culture-war demagoguery on nativism like we've seen from no other president, and Norman's right. It's been normalized under Trump. I've heard a lot of pundits say that Trump's speech was surprisingly normal.

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