Speaking words of bipartisanship, U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a State of the Union (SOTU) address that suggested he would continue to pursue policies that have most deeply divided the country.
Standing in front of Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, Mr. Trump delivered an hour-and-twenty-minute speech that exposed, in parts, a chasm between his words and the reality of his governance.
“Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one nation,” he said, adding, “…we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”
However, he quickly swivelled to the migrant caravan — a concept Mr. Trump has often used to fire up his voter base and back his claims for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all America,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump called on his audience to “defend our very dangerous southern border” and portrayed the issue in class terms. “No issue better illustrated the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration.”
Among the guests at Tuesday’s show were the family of a couple who had been killed allegedly by an “illegal alien”.
Mr. Trump has frequently demonised illegal migrants to get support for his hardline on illegal immigration and his demand for a border wall, this despite data showing that more crimes are committed by native-born citizens than by undocumented migrants in the U.S.
Of the border wall, Mr Trump said: “I’ll get it built”. His demand for a wall and the Democrats’ refusal to allow a physical structure across the 2,000-mile border had shut the government down for a record 35 days over December and January. The President and Congressional Republicans — not all of whom support his wall idea — will have to come up with a deal by February 15 when key parts of the federal government will run out of budgetary authorisation again.
“This is a smart, strategic see-through steel barrier… deployed in the areas… having the greatest need,” Mr. Trump said of his proposal, suggesting that there may be scope for an agreement with Democrats who have showed a willingness to consider a “smart wall” and increased money for border security.
In what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat to the ongoing Mueller investigation and Democrats who now chair powerful House oversight committees, Mr Trump said: “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.”
“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he added.
At least one part of Mr Trump’s speech had unintended consequences for him. Taking credit for the economy, the President said: “No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58% of the newly created jobs last year,” a comment that resulted in a standing ovation, which was joined by Democratic women dressed in white for the evening to mark 100 years of the women’s right to vote. They were elected to the House after November’s midterms, a reaction to Mr. Trump’s first two years in office.
The guests for the evening included two individuals, both African Americans — one a first time non-violent drug offender pardoned by Mr. Trump and the other, the first person to be released by the First Step Act, a criminal reform Bill passed in 2018 with bipartisan support.
In terms of other bipartisan themes, Mr. Trump offered to work together on infrastructure, push to lower prescription drug prices, increase paid parental leave and said he would increase funding for childhood cancer research.
The President also said he would ask Democrats and Republicans for more funding for the eradication of HIV in America within a decade.
Mr Trump — in a policy that will particularly hold special appeal to his evangelical base — said he would ask Congress to prohibit the late-term abortion of children. In terms of foreign policy, there were no major surprises or deviations from his themes: China and trade, Iran being the leading sponsor of terror and condemnation of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
“If I had not been elected President of the U.S., we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed,” Mr. Trump said. On Afghanistan, Mr. Trump said of U.S. negotiations with stakeholders including the Taliban, “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement…the hour has come to least least try for peace.”
Mr. Trump’s speech dwelt on military themes both at the start and as it wound down. He introduced among his guests, a former American soldier, Herman Zeitchik, who had helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp and sitting next to Mr. Zeitchik, Joshua Kaufman, who had been a child inmate of Dachau at the time of the liberation.
Talking of the sacrifices American’s had made in this past, towards the end of his speech, Mr Trump said, “I am asking you to choose greatness.”