Victory is not winning for our party; victory is winning for our country. It sounds like something President John F. Kennedy might have said – or perhaps President Ronald Reagan. In fact, it was said by President Donald J. Trump as he opened his 2019 State of the Union address.
The president threw down a challenge to America, and more specifically to his political opponents, to choose greatness. Though he effectively covered his achievements to date and his agenda going forward – as all presidents do when they deliver the State of the Union address – Trump wrapped it all in the theme of American potential and American destiny. The challenge was simple: America has come far in a short amount of time and can go so much farther, but to do that the nation has to focus on the big picture and put aside the partisanship that today colors everything.
…Trump wrapped it all in the theme of American potential and American destiny.
The Theme of American Greatness
The address opened and closed with references to World War II. At the start, Trump honored three of his guests — veterans of the D-Day Normandy invasion — and he circled back to those men at the end. The symbolism was strong and pointed: World War II was the last time the United States, as a whole nation, threw itself into a great endeavor – a global conflict, no less – that not only changed the world but also defeated an ideology so evil it threatened to plunge humankind into darkness for decades or perhaps longer.
Trump implored Americans to unlock the enormous potential of the nation’s future, but he warned the political class that this potential would be destroyed by “foolish wars, politics, and ridiculous partisan investigations.”
In 2018, Trump delivered a good State of the Union address; in 2019, he seemed more comfortable with the task, as if he had grown into his office. He wore the confident demeanor of a leader who has seen his agenda succeed but also understands his obligation, in this time of hysterical divisiveness, to deliver a message of optimism and a call for unity.
Making Democrats Uncomfortable
If one is entirely objective and disregards party politics, it is tough to take a dim view of the economic successes the president recapped or his intentions for the coming years. As Trump spoke about the historically low unemployment numbers, there was one entertaining moment. He pointed out that women in America are now stepping into the majority of open jobs, and the cadre of new female Democratic members of Congress, all dressed in white, stood and applauded themselves.
Obviously, they were attempting to take a shot at Republicans and at Trump himself for losing control of the House of Representatives and thus providing them with the jobs they now have. Trump took this in stride, though, and worked the room. “You were not supposed to do that.” He told the women, with a smile, “Thank you very much. Thank you very much.” Then, Trump told them: “Don’t sit down yet; you’re gonna like this,” and he specifically mentioned the number of women elected to Congress. The congresswomen took to their feet again and chanted “USA! USA!” The president congratulated them before moving on with his speech. It was an almost surreal moment. These new members of Congress clearly thought they were being smart while ignoring, or perhaps not recognizing, the fact that Trump – whom many of them have accused of misogyny – was giving them props.
In a powerful pitch for a wall along the southern border, the president made a point that open-borders advocates never want to hear and certainly do not want the American people to understand:
“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards. Meanwhile, working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal immigration: reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”
Democrats could not even applaud Trump’s pledge to put drug cartels and human traffickers “out of business.” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), 2020 presidential hopeful, even shook her head and seemed visibly annoyed at the idea.
In another obvious jab at the opposition party – and with a nod to the coming battle of ideologies that will play out in 2020 – Trump described socialism as “government coercion, domination, and control,” pointing to the tragic downward spiral of Venezuela and pledging that the United States would never become a socialist country. The president also hit Democrats on late-term abortion; making it clear that he would work to outlaw the practice.
One piece of news that came out of the address was the announcement that the president would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28.
The address was a triumph for President Trump. Even television news outlets that devote themselves to reporting negatively the president acknowledged very favorable approval numbers from polling taken after the speech. It may indeed have been one of Trump’s best speeches so far. He called upon the nation to “reignite the American imagination” and made a powerful case that unity, rather than division, would lead to even greater achievements. Considering that this was Trump’s chance to take his message directly to the nation without the filter of an antagonistic media, it was not really a good night to be a Democrat.