Trump's First State Of The Union

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On Tuesday, January 30th, Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to the nation. The speech lasted an hour and twenty minutes in total and contained very few surprises. Overall, the speech was a strange combination between calling for bipartisan unity across the aisle and typically Trumpian anti-immigrant and nationalistic rhetoric. On the one hand, Trump called for bipartisan unity and national solidarity, saying "Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.” On the other hand, Trump reinforced national left-wing anger over his stances on immigration, underscoring examples of criminal behavior by undocumented persons on U.S. soil and taking an unsympathetic tone when discussing the fate of the so-called “Dreamer” population, or undocumented young people brought into the country illegally as children, saying at one point “Americans are dreamers too”.

The beginning portions of the speech focused on the economy, with Trump touting the economic achievements of his first term. He boasted an 8 trillion dollar increase in stock market value, small business confidence being at an all time high, and enacting what he calls “the biggest tax cuts in American history”. Trump also took credit for the fact that black unemployment rates were at the lowest levels ever recorded, despite this being a continuation of a long-time trend that began in 2011 under the Obama administration, during which the black unemployment rate was cut in half. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released in early January, the black unemployment rate for December 2017 was 6.8%, the lowest it’s ever been since 1972, when they started tracking that data. However, the fact that Trump attributed the credit for this progress to his own administration is highly debatable. Many economists say that it is actually impossible, as economic policy changes take several years at least before their effects begin to show statistically. Further weakening Trump’s case, data released by BLS on February 2nd shows the black unemployment rate to have risen to 7.7% in January 2018. Granted, month to month demographic-based unemployment fluctuations alone are not necessarily indicative of overarching patterns due to small sample sizes, which is why long-term consistent trends are much more telling in gaining an overall economic picture. When it comes to lowering black unemployment rates, we have yet to see exactly how the Trump administration compares to its predecessor.

Most disappointing, though not surprising, for Democrats, social liberals, and America’s immense immigrant population was the blatant reaffirmation of Trump’s general xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. He continued his narrative of the inherent criminality of those who lack legal immigration status by highlighting specific examples of brutal crimes committed by undocumented persons and drawing causal connections between illegal immigration and gang violence. In what has become a trope or ritual in major Trump speeches, families whose loved ones were killed by undocumented persons were present in the audience and pointed to by Trump as proof of the general malintent of people entering the country illegally. To use the unimaginable pain that these families have endured as proof of his xenophobic conclusions is both morally reprehensible and logically flawed. To generalize the undocumented population at large as violent criminals due to the actions of a few is a classic opportunistic tactic of racist mass marginalization.

Trump made many promises for his remaining years in office during the speech, including spending $1.5 million on infrastructure improvements, creating paid family leave, cutting prescription drug costs, and easing prisoner reentry into society. Many Democrats question where Trump will find the money for these projects, especially considering the simultaneous cuts in federal tax revenue.

When it came to staying on script, Trump was on his best behavior. He only mentioned Russia once, and gave the tirades about how unfairly he’s been treated a rest for a change. We’ll see if this teleprompter obedience and brief Twitter prudence lasts. Regardless, actions still speak louder than words, and his actions as president so far have been less than unifying, to say the least. As advocates, we must continue to be on our guard, resist the many injustices enacted during the first year of Trump’s presidency, and hold him accountable to both his actions and his words in the many ways that they affect our communities.