President Donald Trump began his first State of the Union Address with an appeal to unity, referencing a wide variety of American heroes, some in attendance, who had responded to disasters across the nation from Houston to Las Vegas, California to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. This opening set the tone for the address, in which Trump would repeatedly emphasize his commitment to serving all Americans.
Throughout the speech, Trump frequently referred to the many guests he had brought to the State of the Union, as examples of the success of his past policies or the need for his future policies. This often presented Democrats in attendance with the dilemma of appearing heartless or appearing to support a policy with which they disagreed.
Trump used their examples, and the recovery of Steve Scalise, “The Legend from Louisiana”, from his gunshot wound, to point to the unity that America often found in moments of tragedy. President Trump went on to say that “But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy. Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is the key. These are the people we were elected to serve”. While Chuck Schumer applauded Trump’s call for unity, Nancy Pelosi did not.
While Trump addressed many of his actions from the year before, he spent the most time discussing the success of the recent tax reform legislation.
He addressed not only the businesses returning to the United States, rewarding their workers, or hiring, but the benefits to the average American family. In particular, Trump noted that the tax reform legislation removed all taxes on the first $24,000 made by a married couple. In addition, Trump mentioned that the child tax credit was doubled, thanks to the lobbying efforts of Senator Mike Lee, Senator Tim Scott, and Senator Marco Rubio.
Crises Within America
Trump also addressed both his future plans and past actions which were meant to improve the lives of ordinary Americans and address critical problems.
He mentioned that Congress had passed the VA Accountability Act and that many of the Veteran’s Affairs employees responsible for the mistreatment and neglect of veterans had been fired and replaced with better employees. President Trump also stated that he believed such a policy should be applied to other departments to allow them to fire employees, “who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”
The president mentioned his support for using coal as an energy source and the many regulations he slashed to help American businesses succeed.
Over the course of the speech, Trump both promised to fight to lower the cost of prescription drugs and decried the opiate epidemic, promising to fight for affordable medicine and to deal with a massive societal problem.
On infrastructure, Trump stated that many regulations had prevented efficient construction and repairs for years, but that he would fight to remove them. He also proposed $1.5 Trillion in spending, adding to already massive yearly deficits, and the United States National Debt of over $20 Trillion.
The threat of violent cartels dominated Trump’s initial discussion of immigration, as he moved from a list of threats to discussing the specific cases of young girls murdered by MS-13 gang members in their high school, after illegally entering the country. As he had many times before, Trump referenced some of his guests in attendance, the parents of the murdered girls.
From here, Trump launched into a discussion of the compromise he had offered to Democrats, occasionally but rarely winning some applause from prominent Democrats in the audience, such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Trump reiterated that it was his duty “to protect every American of every color, background, and creed” and that while the generosity of the United States and its people to the world was highly commendable, America’s children and workers must come first. In light of this, Trump proposed to provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 Million illegal immigrants, far larger than the group protected by DACA, provided they meet education and work requirements over a twelve year period. In return, Trump asked for increased funding to hire more outstanding border agents, complimenting both those at the border and a border agent among his guests, end the practice referred to as “catch and release”, and end the visa lottery and chain migration, restoring a meritocratic system of immigration.
President Trump opened his remarks on foreign policy with a list of enemies such as rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and Russia, while insisting that “We know that weakness and the surest path to conflict and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.”
For this purpose, President Trump called for the end of the military sequester and for the modernization of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal. The president stated his desire for a world without nuclear weapons but returned to his earlier point that strength is needed in the world we have now.
He also referenced the success of the U.S. and its allies, notably the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Iraqi Government, and the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan, in seizing the vast majority of territory held by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Trump repeated his commitment to treating terrorists as “unlawful enemy combatants”. In fact, Trump stated that he had ordered General Mattis to review policies on this matter, including the use of Guantanamo Bay, moments before the beginning of the SOTU.
President Trump also brought up his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, before condemning an attempt by the United Nations to prevent this move. The president then endorsed Nikki Haley’s plan to reconsider existing foreign aid to ensure that only America’s friends receive financial assistance, as many recipients of foreign aid frequently vote against the United States’ interests at the United Nations.
Trump concluded his remarks on foreign policy by denouncing several authoritarian regimes, including Cuba and Venezuela. On Iran, Trump said, “When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.” He also asked the assembled Members of Congress to revise the Iran Deal.
Finally, Trump once again referenced an affected person in attendance, as well as others who had suffered at the hands of the regime, to make his case against North Korea. After referencing the sufferings of Otto Wambier at the hands of North Korea, Trump addressed the story of Ji Seong-ho who had fled North Korea, despite torture and the loss of his leg. Trump announced that this defector had come to personify the “yearning for freedom” that defines America, culminating in Seong-ho brandishing his crutches above his head.