On Tuesday, Jan. 30, President Donald Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address on the Senate floor. Trump primarily offered slightly watered down, and remarkably coherent, versions of his greatest hits — build the wall, America first and blame Barack Obama for anything and everything. The speech also offered some important insight into Trump’s dark American vision. Here is a list of five things I took away from the State of the Union address.
1. Trump doesn’t understand what the State of the Union Address is supposed to be
The State of the Union address, for every president to this point, has been an opportunity to highlight the economic standing of the country and outline legislative goals for the coming year. For Trump, it was little more than a glossy version of his campaign speeches; rife with slander and short on detail. He relied on fear-mongering to sell his flimsy message — he told horror stories about MS-13 gang violence and the opioid crisis. Trump was also as partisan as ever — railing on the Affordable Care Act and boasting his callous stance on immigration (more on this later).
2. Trump lied more than he told the truth
At this point in his political career, it should come as no surprise that Trump told less than the whole truth in his speech. He claimed to have enacted the biggest tax cut in American history, when in reality, his tax bill is only the fourth largest since 1940. Trump was also quick to falsely claim, “We do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world.” It’s true that the United States spends the most in foreign aid globally, but when it comes to foreign aid as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks fifteenth on the list. For anyone who thought Trump would soon reverse his complicated relationship with honesty, think again.
3. Christianity and patriotism are Trump’s standards for Americanness
For the president of a country with a constitution that claims no national religion, Trump spoke an awful lot about God. “As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will never fail,” was a thematic sentiment throughout his speech. Trump also took pains to celebrate overt displays of patriotism, citing his guest 12-year-old Preston Sharp, who undertook a project to place 40,000 flags on the graves of veterans as an example of “why we proudly stand for our national anthem.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) slammed the charade, insisting “whenever somebody pulls out patriotism, uses it in a way to condemn people for their patriotic acts, how they choose to show their patriotism, this is a divisive way to go about it.”
4. Trump is completely insensitive to immigrants
Trump laid out his so-called “four-pillar plan” on immigration with the usual promises — building the wall, cracking down on visa lotteries, ending chain migration and offering citizenship to some undocumented immigrants. But no quote better summarizes Trump’s complete lack of empathy for illegal immigrants, particularly the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children, than his buffoonish justification for his hardline immigration stances: “Americans are dreamers too.”
5. Trump is ready for war
The second half of Trump’s address took on an ominous tone as he spoke in vague terms about North Korea, Iran and military power in general. His claim that “unmatched power is the surest means of our true and great defense” was resonant. Perhaps the most startling point of the whole speech was Trump’s announcement that he signed a new executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay open. In the past, United Nations human rights experts have urged the U.S. to close the military prison, which uses torture to obtain information from prisoners. The Obama Administration made strides to free hundreds of abused detainees incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, but Trump made clear his intentions to reverse that progress. He we was even more hawkish in addressing North Korea. He argued that “complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation,” and knocked North Korea’s “depraved character.”
Some points more surprising than others, Trump’s State of the Union was a profound look into his priorities and philosophies as a leader. And for the most part, they were hardly satisfactory. As young people and as voters, we must be attentive and critical of the words spoken by our elected leaders — and the implicit meaning behind them — and set higher standards for our politicians.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, January 22 print edition. Email Alison at [email protected].