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President Trump gestures slightly in the direction of the Democrats, possibly to elicit a response from a quiet crowd. Courtesy of the U.S. embassy at Estonia website.

Two Perspectives on the 2018 State of the Union Address

Feb 12, 2018

A transcript of the address for reference can be accessed here.  

Trump’s First State of The Union Doesn’t Impress

Last Tuesday, controversial President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address. For some, it reignited a belief in the current administration, and for others it lacked the unification many felt it needed.

Previous State of the Union addresses haven’t been particularly memorable even though they allow citizens to understand the direction that the government seeks to take the country. It is also a glimpse into how the president has changed after being in office for a full year.

Compared to past speaking engagements, Trump’s demeanor differed from what has been seen in the past: he was subdued, he followed the teleprompter, and he spoke with a very positive tone. Considering the last year in office, maintaining an upbeat tone was necessary to reassure the base of his support. The speech wasn’t as unifying for the Democrats per se, but it gave the impression that bipartisanship was important to a president who has done little to prove that to be true.

The president’s ideas in the address were expected and previously apprehended, leaving Democrats unimpressed. Yes, he addressed opioid addiction and recent tragedies, but for the majority of the speech, Democrats refused to clap for the president. The actions of the Democrats were received as disrespectful and rude, and for the sake of the government this is not the best move to make. However, I also understand why Democrats went to this breadth. Bipartisanship is something that is hard to achieve and it’s not like the Trump administration has been open to amicable conversation. To have the leader of the free world talk down upon you through social media and create hardship for your constituents would deter anyone from wanting to share support.

Besides the controversy between the parties, the speech itself touched on topics that were not surprising: jobs, economy, energy, taxes, infrastructure and, most notably, immigration.

Trump used his impact on the economy as the face of his first year in office; although it is an important component to being a successful president, he has presented statistics that are purely happenstance. Specifically, he stated that both black and Hispanic unemployment rates have been at their lowest ever. This caused some uproar because it felt implied that this was Trump’s doing, but these unemployment rates have been declining since 2011.

Other topics, like energy, Trump addressed in a relatively narrow way.

For example, Trump touted the phrase, “we have ended the war on clean coal…” which is an oxymoron; there really was never a war on coal, and using “clean” to describe a source of energy that has negatively impacted the environment is ironic.

Besides the point, Trump does not care for clean energy. He has never supported it or even addressed it, besides trying to cut it. Our last administration took utilizing clean energy very seriously and, most importantly, acknowledged climate change.  Currently, climate change is not an existing issue for Trump and he even lauds how amazing oil and coal are. Interestingly, Trump remarked that “no one has done this for decades,” referring to petroleum. The way he talked sounded outdated, that using more oil and coal is an achievement for the country and that he is the one who is utilizing this tool that so many have “forgotten” about.

The other sore topic that Trump faces a lot of controversy over is immigration. The immigration stalemate was responsible for the government shutdown two weeks ago and is a large point of contention between the parties. Trump presented his four pillars for immigration: DACA, border patrol, visa lottery, and chain migration. Trump called for compromise between the parties for the immigration crisis to be solved, but the demands that Trump makes don’t seem to include any compromises on his part. It feels as if he is talking about bipartisanship but has no intention to compromise.

The citizenship path that he proposed would take up to 12 years and would cover triple the amount of Dreamers that Obama’s administration currently does. Trump doesn’t refer to these immigrant children as Dreamers until the end, as if he was trying to push aside the title that these recipients are known by.  He also sought to assure the nation that he cares for them, but it’s hard to believe that when he talks about deporting so many of them. It would have been better to not fake sympathy for these people.

When the president talks about “stricter border patrol,” he really means he wants a wall. The source of funding for this wall is still up in the air, as well as the support from his Military Chief of Staff John Kelly and some of his fellow cabinet members, but it is a promise he made.

The visa lottery and chain migration were the last things that he touched on. He has expressed very strong views about these two pieces of border control and the statements he made during the speech were misleading. Saying that you can let “virtually an unlimited number of distant relatives” into the country, which is wrong.  A 1988 act from the General Accounting Office created a waiting list for people to come into the country through the practice of chain migration, which can potentially take up to 25 years because of backlog. It should also be noted that you can only bring in close family on a visa, excluding grandparents. Green cards are different, and spouses can be brought into the country within 90 days, but that isn’t bringing in mass amounts of people.

A final note on immigration: Trump called “Americans dreamers, too” which really rubbed some people the wrong way, and I agree. In the literal sense of the word, American citizens dreamt this country to be free, equal, and democratic and it has become such a powerful influence on a global scale. But “Dreamers” is a term associated with immigrants who were brought here technically illegally and found a home in America. Extending this title that was solely based on the issues of immigrant children felt unnecessary, but I understand why he said this. Trump’s campaign was focused on strengthening border security and it was important for him to bring together the people he wants to provide a path for and the current citizens of the country.

Through all of this, Trump was able to share his beliefs and give real life examples of his strong stances through the stories of others. They were incredibly meaningful. The stories ranged from families who lost their daughters to gang violence, to an ICE border agent whose life was threatened, to a man who escaped North Korea on crutches after going through a brutal leg amputation. These stories were the highlight of his speech; it made Trump seem far more empathetic, which is something he has struggled with especially in the eyes of Democrats. This emotion gave him a more sincere and purposeful tone that seemed to resonate with a wider audience than before. State of the Unions are typically littered with stories about amazing people in this country; having American citizens get their stories told through the government makes the country feel more based in the people, no matter the tragedy.

Trump’s State of the Union had notable aspects to it, and was interesting for those who are deeply interested in politics to see Congress’s and Trump’s projections for the future.

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State of the Union Address 2018: A Net Positive

January 30, 2018. Washington D.C. The capitol building is unusually crowded. Indistinct murmurs fill the room. All voices cease as House Speaker Paul Ryan addresses the audience.

“Members of Congress, I have the high privilege, and the distinct honor, of presenting to you the President of the United States.”

Ryan and President Donald Trump share a handshake, the President casually raises his glass of water in a toast to the audience as he cracks a friendly smile, and so it begins: the first State of the Union Address of Trump’s presidency.

The president isn’t exactly known for the civility of his rhetoric. This led me to adopt a cautious skepticism going into the address. I didn’t know what to expect from the president for the next hour or so. Would he polarize the room with accusatory, partisan, obnoxious verbiage or attempt to bridge the partisan divide of the room by focusing on American accomplishment rather than Republican accomplishment? I hoped he would incorporate the latter, but accepted the likelihood of the former.

I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong ― mostly.

Despite a few weak points and distasteful moments, Trump managed to keep the address at a net positive by providing plenty of bipartisan policy announcements and anecdotes and being relatively respectful to the Democrats throughout the hour.

Let’s start with the negative.

The worst moments in the address were mostly overinflated, misleading, or out-of-context statistics.

President Trump touted the fact that the Dow Jones industrial average, a form of economic health measurement, is at a historic high. This implies that he takes credit for such a development, which is objectively false. The Dow more than doubled during President Obama’s presidency, and this trend simply continued after President Trump was put into office. None of the economic policies passed by the Trump administration have had time to have any effect on the economy.

The president also presented the fact that African-American unemployment has reached a historic low, and it’s “something [he’s] very proud of.” The implication that black unemployment has receded due to the Trump administration’s actions is absurd at best, but his word choice implied so. I understand that Trump may have been simply celebrating a positive happening in our country, but the context of the statement suggested otherwise. Also, with the release of January’s unemployment data the day after, black unemployment went up 0.9%, a very large increase by unemployment standards. Talk about irony.

With the remarks of low minority unemployment, Trump also referred to the “2.4 million new jobs” created under the Trump administration. While this is a positive and should be celebrated, conservative media enjoys using this fact to malign Barack Obama’s presidency. This is not a fair or objective comparison. The Obama administration inherited the weakest economy since the Great Depression, and still managed to see job growth comparable to — and many times even higher than — the Trump administration’s so far.

One could argue that there were more negative moments in the address, such as the touting of the tax cuts, deregulation in the business sector, and the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, but none of these topics are necessarily negative. They’re simply partisan, and the president has a right to celebrate the accomplishments of his party. I may not support aggressive tax cuts, business deregulation, and the abandonment of an attempt to implement universal health care, but most Republicans do, and that’s OK.

What about the positive?

From the heartwarming story of a twelve-year-old putting flags on veterans’ graves to an unbelievable account of a North Korean defector surviving mortal wounds and making a transcontinental journey on crutches despite all odds, the address included plenty of guests whose situations or actions evoked comradery, patriotism, and unification in the audience. Seeing examples of the American spirit and the American dream in action did nothing but positively unify and rally the audience under a common goal: a strong America.

The president rallied the country behind fighting the drug epidemic and gang violence, giving access to experimental treatment to terminally ill patients, strengthening our nuclear program as deterrence, exterminating ISIS, sanctioning the reckless regime of North Korea, and more. All things everyone can pretty much agree on, and all things in the interest of the American people. The President even spoke on the topic of lowering medicine expenses. Our ridiculous pharmaceutical prices (compared to that of most other countries) is something that has needed attention for decades, and it’s a great relief to know that the issue is now in the legislative spotlight.

Talking on immigration reform, the President proudly recited the fact that compromise had taken place and a fair reform in the interests of both parties had been reached. DACA has begun to be replaced with a more comprehensive program, offering a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million immigrants who meet education and employment requirements. This number is larger than DACA’s, which is more than I ever hoped for after DACA’s repeal. And although the reforms included a border wall, the fact that the White House is willing to compromise as much as it has is a true blessing.

But, oddly enough, the Democrats remained stoic and begrudgingly, half-heartedly applauded at the remark. In fact, they remained this way during many instances of bipartisan topics, with some even using their phones in the middle of the applause. This struck me as tacky, unprofessional, and immature, and it showcased how palpable the party divide really is. Even when the minority party gets something it wants, its members wouldn’t be caught dead admitting satisfaction simply because the majority party’s administration had a part in it. And this isn’t just a Democrat issue. I’m sure that if all of the roles were reversed, the Republicans would do just the same.

In the end, the address felt to me like it had more positives than negatives. The partisan divide definitely showed itself, but this isn’t a new development. It’s the status quo with our two-party system. One can only dream that our representatives in Congress put their self-interest and party aside in favor of objectively representing the people and consider all legislation based on merit rather than partisanship. In any case, the President did a fairly good job at this address, accomplished what he was supposed to, and didn’t blunder too much. That’s about as much as I could ever hope for.

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