To most Americans, President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress was a slam dunk.
Even some of Trump’s harshest critics were forced to admit that the former businessman became “presidential” Tuesday night, particularly in the emotional moment that he recognized Carryn Owens, the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens.
While nearly the entire chamber rose in that moment, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews — alongside a panel of outspoken liberal celebrities — would soon make it clear that not everyone appreciated the way that Trump honored the slain hero and his wife:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) March 1, 2017
Specifically, Matthews took issue with what he called the “grotesque” moment in which the president praised the remarkable length of the standing ovation given to Owens.
As Trump told Owens following the first round of applause:
“Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.”
Bemoaning what he called Trump’s “applause meter,” Matthew asked his guest Bill Maher if he also thought the moment was “grotesque.”
“I wasn’t crazy about the response to that. I wish she hadn’t allowed herself to be used as his prop like that.
And I don’t see any great courage here. Where is the courage? Who wouldn’t stand and applaud for a war widow?”
To answer Maher’s question, there were several who did refuse to stand and applaud Owens, most notably former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and ranking Democrats like Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL):
Sobbing widow of slain Navy Seal receives 2 minute standing ovation.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz & Keith Ellison stay firmly seated, no claps
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) March 1, 2017
Nonetheless, Maher would not be the only MSNBC guest that night to classify Owens as a mere prop.
Filmmaker Michael Moore expressed similar outrage — saying that Trump was simply “using” the SEAL’s widow — while Hollywood director and activist Rob Reiner claimed that it was “disgraceful” for “snake oil salesman” Trump to “use” Owens.
While denigrating an emotional moment like the one Trump and Owens shared Tuesday night might seem to cross a sacred boundary, this type of tactic has actually been in use for decades.
Specifically, it can be traced back to liberal writer and activist Saul Alinsky, who believed in dehumanizing the left’s opposition. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” as Alinsky wrote.
The organizer must become schizoid, politically, in order not to slip into becoming a true believer. Before men can act an issue must be polarized. Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 per cent on the side of the devil. He knows that there can be no action until issues are polarized to this degree.
By attempting to spin Trump’s honor of a hero’s sacrifice into nothing less than a political “prop,” these celebrity-critics — consciously or not — seem to be following Alinsky’s playbook quite closely.