President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening, amidst a political atmosphere inside the Capitol as frosty as the mid-winter weather outside.
Declaring that the state of the union is strong because its people are strong, the President spoke for 80 minutes, the third longest SOTU in history, in a highly charged House chamber he called “the people’s monument” but which was tinged by sour-faced Democrats present to see the first Republican President to deliver a SOTU in ten years. Several members on the hard-left refused to even attend. The elephant in the chamber was the roiling drama of an explosively controversial and soon-to-be-released memo in which the House Intelligence Committee reportedly reaches some damning conclusions about the abuse of FISA warrants used by the Obama administration to surveil the Trump presidential campaign and transition.
Trump spoke in broad, America-first terms and as expected, persistently chose persuasion over confrontation, touting the positive economic news of recent months and emphasizing the major tax reform passed in December: “Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history…Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses…Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.””
Trump touted his administration’s unprecedented deregulatory efforts – ten regulations abolished for every one added: “In our drive to make Washington accountable we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”
On the largely overlooked – and so far successful – effort to establish American energy independence, Trump said, “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”
He also stressed his record internationally: “Last year, I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth. One year later, I’m proud to report the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100% of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria…As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad.”
The President looked ahead to the coming year, and to an agenda headed by a one trillion dollar infrastructure initiative that will require bipartisan support – on an issue near and dear to Democrats: “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year — isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approval for a simple road…I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.”
On the most controversial issue of all, immigration, Trump spoke of the four-pillar deal he proposed in recent days, drawing howls from the left, but he carried on, calling for “bringing our immigration system into the 21st century” and pushing his America First theme: “Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will…be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.” One of the most poignant moments of the evening came when Trump recognized the parents of two young girls murdered by illegal immigrants in an MS-13 gang. The story of a North Korean defector who suffered horrifying cruelty from the Kim Jung-Un regime also drew lengthy applause.
The President did not shy away from the issue that most divides him from the Republican establishment, trade: “America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our nation’s wealth.”
The President received some of his biggest ovations when he declared “In God We Trust,” and when he called for a restoration of Americans’ commitment to stand for the National Anthem. But perhaps the single line Trump hopes most people will take away from his first SOTU is all about carpe diem – seizing the day – in a climate of strong economic growth, rising employment and soaring consumer confidence: “This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American dream…This is your time”
Even after years of watching the State of the Union, one is still struck by the grandeur of it all, on this singular occasion when the entire government gathers together under one roof. These annual speeches given by Presidents are generally laced with lofty rhetoric punctuated by the lauding of unsung heroes, calls for unprecedented bipartisan cooperation, laundry lists of accomplishments and policy wish lists. And as different as Trump is from any of the previous 44 American presidents, he used his State of the Union for the very same purposes. Unfortunately, as with all SOTU addresses, it will be forgotten in a day or two, and the bitter wrangling between Republicans and Democrats over virtually every issue will continue uninterrupted.