President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, calling for national unity, celebrating a booming economy but also trafficking in the xenophobic language that marked his campaign and first year in office.
Trump took credit for the economic advances of the previous year, although the economy added more jobs in President Barack Obama’s last year in office than in this first year of Trump’s. Nonetheless, a booming stock market and continued declines in the unemployment rate have buoyed most people’s sense of their own economic possibilities according to surveys.
In one sign that the president may seek a more bipartisan path in the year ahead, he called on Congress to fund a US$1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The president also suggested he wanted prison reform to help former inmates re-enter society and find jobs, another proposal with wide bipartisan support.
But it was his language on immigration that obliterated the earlier hopeful tone, focusing on “drugs” and “gangs” and introducing the parents of two women killed by a Latino gang, even though immigrants perpetrate less crime, per capita, than American-born citizens.
“An attack on ‘chain migration’ is really an attack on keeping families together. Chain migration is not the problem,” said Dylan Corbett, Executive Director of the HopeBorder Foundation. “Here on the border people know that if they applied today to bring their brother or sister from Mexico, it could literally take about 150 years to get a green card. The problem is a broken system with no line to step into. The problem is a wall that drives vulnerable migrants to their death in the desert. The problem is whipping up xenophobia against refugees, unaccompanied child migrants, the undocumented and Dreamers.”
Critics dismissed the president’s call to national unity. “I watched a president who has lost all moral credibility pay lip service to unity and common ground while continuing to stoke fear and division,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life. “Catholics and other people inspired by their faith will continue to resist this administration's cruel assault on immigrants and the poor. Moral movements that transcend partisanship have always challenged morally bankrupt leaders. The same is true today.”
Per usual, Republicans interrupted the speech frequently with loud ovations while Democrats mostly sat on their hands. Only when the president called attention to the various heroes sitting in the First Lady’s box – an Army officer, a couple that adopted a child of a drug addict, a company owner who is expanding operations and hiring new workers – did members of both party stand together and applaud.
In his official response to the State of the Union, Congressman Joseph Kennedy condemned the divisiveness the current administration has caused, and pledged the Democrats to seek to bring the country together. Kennedy, unlike Trump, mentioned Russian involvement in seeking to interfere with U.S. elections and the need to investigate that interference.
Pic: US President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Credit: Yin Bogu/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images