It’s a tradition that happens every year in early February. The Speaker of the House invites the President to a joint session of Congress to address the nation in what is usually an hour and a half speech filled with accomplishments, future ambitions, and special guests. That was all present in this year’s State of the Union address by President Trump; however, there was an uncomfortable undertone of the speech considering Trump was giving the speech as the third impeached president in history.
In his fourth State of the Union address on February 4, 2020, Trump summarized the accomplishments of 2019 and looked to the future for where he thinks America could be. Coming a day before the Senate acquitted Trump, the speech was not appreciated by many Democrats, for certain members such as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) refused to attend the occasion. The legislators who did attend exhibited the usual disdain for the president of the opposite party, and the GOP, as expected, went nuts at almost every word that protruded from the President’s lips. While I am not going to recap every fine detail about the President’s speech, there are definitely some points worth mentioning.
Starting and Ending Strong
Trump started and ended his speech with encouraging, non-partisan words and statements. Rather than focusing on issues exclusive to the Republican Party or his supporters, Trump focused on how the nation’s confidence is rising, and the United States has built considerable respect on an international stage. He began with an optimistic tone, stating that the days of America’s decline are over. As the President said, “the state of our union is stronger than ever before.” As expected, Trump began by boasting about the economy and the record low unemployment in history and the seven million jobs added. He also emphasized the record low unemployment for minorities and how Americans of every religion and race are prospering. Trump also conveyed how consumer confidence is improving, wages are increasing, especially for the lowest wage earners, a record number of young people are employed, and how veterans are receiving new opportunities.
As President Trump listed off all these accomplishments, the GOP side of the chamber repeatedly erupted into applause and excitement as they gave the President many standing ovations.
Trump ended the speech as well in a genuine fashion, describing America as the home of many great people such as Lincoln, Douglass, Armstrong, King Jr., and many others. While most of his speech had partisan undertones, Trump made sure to end on a note which both sides could appreciate. His philosophical explanation of the greatness of America and its values of liberty, freedom, and opportunity resonated with both sides of the chamber, Republicans and Democrats alike. As Trump said in concluding his speech, “America is the place where anything can happen. America is the place where anyone can rise. Here, on this land, on this soil, on this continent, the most incredible dreams come true.”
Devolving into Partisan Hacking
While many had high hopes for Trump’s fourth State of the Union being non-partisan and unifying, the President could not resist delving into divisive language. Trump’s talk about how America has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas was likely the first hint that the speech was about to shift, for the issue of fossil fuels is hotly contested by both sides. Some Democrats even groaned at Trump’s announcement of this fact considering climate change attributed to fossil fuels is a major issue on the Democratic side.
However, it was Trump’s follow-up to introducing the earliest born premature baby in Kansas City that set off more of the partisan issues, such as using the moment to convey his pro-life position which brought about disdain on the Democratic side of the chamber.
Even more polar was when Trump talked about immigration, boasting about the great work ICE has done despite the Democratic opposition viewing the organization as corrupt and immoral. Trump directly criticized blue states such as California that have declared themselves sanctuary states. He then told a story about a man who was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant who was released from custody. While the story revealed how security is a necessity with immigration, Trump also seemingly used the narrative to demonize the larger group of undocumented immigrants, a position the right-wing unfortunately has adopted more-and-more as seen by hate crimes such as that in El Paso in August of 2019. His use of the term “illegal alien,” a reference deemed to be disrespectful and hateful, also showed the President conveying his ideas of nationalism, a completely one-sided issue.
Trump also ardently defended the Second Amendment which brought massive applause on the GOP side of the chamber and disapproval from Democrats who have sought common-sense gun reform. Rather than focusing on the issue that both sides have been able to agree on, Trump’s firm stance on gun rights, also seen in his backing down on implementing universal background checks following the El Paso shooting last year, proved to be more a partisan drop than a unifying statement.
Trump also attacked the previous Obama Administration by illustrating how his administration has lifted seven million off of food stamps and millions off of welfare, brining in Democratic disapproval and groaning.
Trump also fell victim to the divisiveness of modern politics by framing the Democratic agenda as “socialist” and vowing that America will never become a socialist nation that destroys people’s private healthcare. Trump’s framing of the Democrats as socialist only fuels the dichotomy between the parties and does not help the situation at hand. The comment was also not rooted in any statistical evidence considering the number of Democrats who support a socialist agenda is minimal. Thus, Trump’s ignorance in using the term “socialist” only worsened the already polar state of politics, wanting to demonize the opposition.
Trump Lies on the Facts
As stated by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the Democratic rebuttal, actions speak louder than words. And some of Trump’s claims did not match this premise. The President on more than one occasion made claims which were either factually false or hypocritical.
For one, the President claimed that he has always supported protecting pre-existing conditions under Obamacare despite his administration backing numerous court cases against pre-existing conditions. The administration also was in full support of the healthcare repeal back in 2017 which fell short due to a courageous vote by the late Sen. John McCain.
Trump also distorted the facts when he inaccurately claimed that the US became the top energy producer under his administration. In reality, it was in 2012 under the Obama Administration when America became the top energy producer in the world. Trump also deceptively made it seem like hundreds of miles of border wall have been built when in reality almost all of that has been older, decrepit border barriers being replaced by new wall. Also on immigration, Trump falsely claimed that the Obama era “Catch and Release” policy led to illegal immigrants “never [being] seen again;” however, statistics from the Department of Justice show that almost 90% of undocumented immigrants showed up to their court hearings. This false information about illegal immigrants inaccurately makes them appear lawless and portrays a false narrative that has led to the demonization of undocumented immigrants by the administration.
Trump also twisted the facts on how illegal crossing have fallen throughout 2019. While it is true that apprehensions at the border decreased every month from May 2019 through December of the same year, 2019 saw the most border apprehensions since 2007 at over 950 thousand.
He Gave the Medal of Freedom to Whom?
I personally found this to be the worst and most disgusting moment of the entire speech. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor, and Trump gave it to Rush Limbaugh. Really? Rush Limbaugh received the award from First Lady Melania Trump during the event after Trump thanked Limbaugh for his service to the country as a radio show host.
However, Rush Limbaugh does not exactly exhibit the characteristic of a man who deserves the highest civilian honor. Limbaugh has a reputation for being sexist, racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic amongst other heinous actions. He once famously called a college student advocating for birth control a “slut” and also pushed the absurd claim that President Obama was an illegitimate president because he was not born in the United States. He also would play a song on his show called “Barack the Magic Negro” and has pushed conspiracy theories like the Obama Administration using race riots as a part of their “regime.”
Having been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer recently, it is probable that the emotion surrounding the diagnosis prompted Trump to honor Limbaugh; however, it is a shame that what once was an honor reserved for the best among us was given to a man with a history of divisiveness, hate, and lying.
Memorable and Emotional Military Moments
Some of the best moments from the speech were when Trump honored a Tuskegee airman and reunited a woman with her husband who had been serving overseas. When mentioning the creation of Space Force as the newest branch of the United States Military, Trump introduced a young boy who had ambitions of one day being a part of the new branch. While the narrative was an uplifting story of passion, the boy’s grandfather, Charles Magee, being one of the last Tuskegee airmen brought a deeper level of emotion to the moment.
Trump also delivered a powerful moment when he discussed the shortcomings of American education and how many Americans have been trapped in failing schools. Trump introduced a young fourth-grade girl who was on the waiting list for an opportunity grant to get a better direction in education and life. The President proceeded to then grant the young girl her grant, drawing bipartisan applause from all members in the chamber.
The President also introduced a mother whose husband was serving overseas. He used her as an example of how military families make unimaginable sacrifices while their spouses or family members protect our nation. He then announced that her husband had returned home, and he walked down the stairs to greet his wife and kids in a spectacular moment. Whereas other moments worked more to divide, this one worked to unify, with everyone in the chamber rising to their feet to applaud the family. The GOP side of the room erupted into a chant of “USA, USA” as well to add to the patriotism of the moment.
Finally, Trump also reiterated his commitment to promoting democracy around the world, using the authoritarian and cruel regime of President Maduro in Venezuela as an example. Trump then introduced the “rightful” President of Venezuela Juan Guaido who was present in the balcony. In my opinion, the presence of Guaido was a strong moment for President Trump in exemplifying his dedication to bringing peace and democracy throughout the world. He spoke directly to Guaido, promising to bring about major changes in his country of Venezuela to make it a better place.
Democrats Refuse to Recognize Accomplishments
One thing which also frustrates me is the inability of the minority part to give credit where credit is due. The Democrats followed the same callow pattern and refused to even applaud objective accomplishments by the President. For instance, they refused to stand for his economic accomplishments, including the record low unemployment for minorities and the massive job growth for women in 2019.
The Democrats also were unwilling to praise the administration for its valiant efforts to get manufacturing jobs back into the US after the previous two administrations had facilitated a loss of American jobs.
The Democrats also showed no signs of interest nor optimism when Trump called on Congress to pass an education act which would allow for greater choice in public education. They conveyed a similar reaction of objection when Trump Called on Congress to allow vocational schools at all public high schools to help make a more functioning economy and provide more opportunity.
Even representatives like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar refused to stand when Trump honored the Tuskegee airman, Charles Magee. Refusing to honor a virtuous and courageous hero like Magee due to political disagreements epitomizes the problem in American politics where everything is associated with party beliefs and ideology rather than free-thinking.
Pelosi Acted Like a Child
I have to say, I had always had some respect for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She has been a fairly moderate congresswoman who has not jumped on board some of the most progressive agendas. However, the little pity-party act of ripping up the transcript of Trump’s speech changed my entire perception of her.
In what is one of the most immature and disrespectful acts I have ever seen in Congress, she proceeded to rip each page of Trump’s speech and then throw it on the table. In what is supposed to be an event of sophistication and decorum, the Speaker acted like a five-year-old throwing a temper tantrum. Even left-leaning anchors commented that Pelosi’s actions were uncalled for and wrong.
This moment was one of the most disheartening and disgusting moments of the entire night (and that is not even mentioning the fact that she also incorrectly introduced President Trump at the beginning of the speech).
The speech overall was good. While a majority of it was filled with partisan ideas, Trump kept it to a minimum on the emotion, and all of the special guests (except Limbaugh) brought stories of heroism, courage, and patriotism. Trump also dodged the bullet of bringing up impeachment which helped keep the speech to a minimum as well in terms of unnecessary emotional outrage.
Despite all he did well though, one thing is clear: the division is getting worse. From one side clapping, while the other sits and shakes its head to the groaning by both sides, our government officials are continuing their grievances with each other, not even being able to applaud each other when the facts are sound and the intentions are good. They are more concerned with handing the other side a win rather than doing what is best for the American people.
But make no mistake, the man at the top, who gave the speech, also has a cross to bear for the division within our country. But despite all that, I am hopeful that one day (maybe later this year) that we can start to build a bridge and bring about more bipartisanship and levity to our government.