And, the state of the union is ……divided. In my opinion, there is one inescapable fact that applies whether you are a liberal, a moderate or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, a Trump supporter or a Trump hater, white, black or Hispanic, young or old, male or female, or rich or poor. This country is DIVIDED, as never before in my lifetime.
Who is to blame? Dems? GOP? Obama? Trump? The media? All of the above? The answer is simple; it depends on one’s political point of view. Watching the president’s SOU speech Tuesday night and the various rebuttals and political commentators on CNN and Fox, how could one think otherwise?
The Constitution requires the President to inform Congress on the “state of the union” annually. The time of the year is not specified, but traditionally Presidents have given the address in January or February. George Washington gave the initial one, in person, in 1790, but that is not a requirement. In fact, during the 19th century most of them were actually delivered to Congress in handwritten form. Apparently, they were not viewed as that significant.
With the advent of radio, however, Presidents began to see an opportunity to disseminate their policies directly to the people. Hence, they were broadcast on the radio and, later, telecast on TV. Down through the years most of them have been rather mundane, however, a few of the notable announcements were:
1. President Monroe announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823.
2. FDR described the famous “four freedoms” (freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear) in 1941.
3. LBJ outlined his War on Poverty in 1964.
In my opinion, President Trump hit a “homerun.” First of all and most importantly, his demeanor and delivery were calm, collected, and very presidential. There was none of the Trump bombast and bluster. It was not his usual “stump” speech, but rather an attempt at unity and inclusion. He made very effective use of his “guests,” such as the 12 year-old boy who places flowers on veterans’ graves, the border patrol officer who adopted an opioid-addicted baby, the family of the late Otto Warmbier, and the parents of the slain MS-13 girls.
In addition, he reiterated his major accomplishments, such as:
- Strong support for veterans.
- Sustained low unemployment, including record lows for blacks and Hispanics.
- Job creation, including new plants being built.
- A moderate justice appointed to the Supreme Court.
- Record-breaking stock market.
- Tax reform, which has already encouraged several companies to hire additional workers and pay out employee bonuses
- Respect for the flag.
- Heroism by “ordinary” Americans during natural disasters.
- Energy independence
- Elimination of needless regulations that discourage business.
- Proposed immigration bill, including border security and a path to citizenship for law-abiding “dreamers.”
- Fighting gangs and opioid addiction
- Fair and reciprocal trade deals.
- Rebuilding infrastructure.
- Paid family leave.
- Success against ISIS.
- Necessity to retain Guantanamo.
- Strong support of Israel, including recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.
Even though a post-speech CNN survey disclosed that 70% of viewers approved of the SOUS and 48% had a “very positive” opinion of it, those ratings were lower than President Trump’s address to Congress last year. As expected, politicians and political commentators adhered to their party lines. Supporters characterized it as “unifying.” For example, GOP Representative Peter King called it “excellent,” praising in particular the section on MS-13. On the other hand, Dem Representative Kamala Harris was skeptical. She denoted that, in the past, the president’s actions have not been consistent with his words. Chuck Schumer opined that the speech “stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.” In his rebuttal speech Joe Kennedy III made a point of reaching out to “dreamers,” telling them in both Spanish and English that “you are a part of our history.” There were many moments when GOPers stood and applauded while the Dems sat on their hands, but that is always the case, so I wouldn’t make too much of that. Curiously, members of the black and Hispanic caucuses refused to stand and clap even when the president cited the aforementioned unemployment numbers. Furthermore, I found it humorous when the camera focused on Nancy Pelosi sitting stonily and looking like she was sucking on a lemon.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper hosted a post-speech panel featuring commentary by Fred Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Rick Santorum, and Van Jones, among others. With respect to every topic the commentators followed their respective party lines. Similarly, on The Five Trump supporters Kimberly Guilfoyle, Jesse Waters, Greg Gutfeld and Dana Perino were positive and liberal Juan Williams was negative.
Two examples of following party lines: the Trump opponents made a case to attribute the low unemployment and high stock market to policies instituted by President Obama and, generally, put a skeptical or negative spin on the benefits of the tax reform law and proposed immigration plan. The comments on both sides were so predictable they could have been written BEFORE the speech and mailed in.
So, to sum up, the one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that President Trump’s demeanor was presidential and devoid of his normal bluster and bombast. Whether its substance, was unifying or divisive, however, depended on the eye of the beholder. One thing everyone seemed to agree on was that in an election year it will be very difficult to get anything controversial through Congress as everyone will be focused on avoiding doing anything that will hurt their or their party’s election prospects.