State of the Union Address 2018: A Net Positive

Jacob Nipper, Staff Writer

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.