Thursday, December 12, 2019
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Trump delivers 1st State of the Union, a long one

President Donald Trump addressed a joint session of Congress and the nation Tuesday evening in his first State of the Union address, which was the second longest SOTU address in 50 years and the longest in this century. I’m exhausted but encouraged by the hope of bipartisanship.

Embed from Getty Images

After introducing guests, he began the speech by talking about the latest tax reform, saying it was a “$3.2 billion” tax cut the new law gave the American people. Most analyses say the number is smaller when taking into account the tax increases that were added in the reforms passed by Congress late last year.

But, Mr Trump said, several workers have already received bonuses in their pay as a result of the tax cuts given to businesses. This claim is difficult to check—and I can’t personally say I’ve received any bonuses because I don’t work for a private company. Net job creation is down, though, compared to what it was at the end of the Obama administration. Besides, we shouldn’t have to be fact-checking the State of the Union as much as we are.

The president struck a bipartisan tone in words but then devoted a great deal of time to the divisive issues around immigration, mentioning the wall once and emphasizing his claim that immigrants commit crimes and kill Americans. (The crime rate among Americans in America is substantially higher than the crime rate among immigrants in America.)

But Mr Trump invited victims of gang violence to the chamber for the speech, as if to say letting “chain immigrants” into the country or “lottery immigrants” apply for citizenship alone is to blame for this hardship on good Americans.

“Americans are Dreamers, too,” the president said. “We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag. … We proudly stand for the national anthem,” he said, alluding to criticism of the NFL protests. (The Super Bowl is Sunday.)

I agree with that statement as far as it goes, but taken out of context, it reminded me of the “All Lives Matter” counter-protest to the “Black Lives Matter” protests that rose up recently across the country over police brutality. Bringing a sign to a rally for, say, the American Cancer Society that says, “There are other diseases that kill people, too,” would be unconscionable.

Taking subject matter out of context like this is typical of news organizations like Fox News, which don’t report false stories but have no sense of how newsworthy a story is because they take every story out of the context of the bigger picture, as explained here by Hannah Feuer of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. As a confessed liberal, she took it upon herself to watch Fox News for a week and reported her findings.

Many high school students (and adults) can’t see through these out-of-context moments, however. “Where in the slogan Black lives Matter does it say only black lives matter? Not once. It all depends on what kind of privilege you’ve had in your life that leads you to imply Only Black Lives Matter or Black Lives Matter, too,” writes Catalya Johnson in the East Highlights student newspaper at Rockford East High School in Illinois.

The Black Lives Matter protest had nothing to do with white lives. The NFL protests and the #MeToo movement—which the president did not refer to at any point during his speech, even though #MeToo has dramatically changed how our companies do business—have nothing to do with business profits. These are just contextual switches on the president’s part.

He also switched contexts when referring to American workers in attendance: “As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the daycare worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top,” said Rep Joseph P Kennedy III in a Democratic response.

There was very little reference to education in the president’s speech, either as he delivered it or in prepared remarks. The president proposed a 12-year path to citizenship for DACA recipients who meet certain work and education requirements but also referred to two DACA kids who “took advantage of gaping loopholes in our laws” to bring their MS-13 gang activity to the high school of two people they murdered.

Linking the tax cut to education, he mentioned that a worker was able to invest his tax cut raise in his daughters’ education. He also made a general reference to vocational training: “Let’s open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.” It was unclear whether that was a reference to community colleges, vocational high schools, or some new concoction, but whatever it was, it counts only as a proposal at this point.

Ms Pelosi is the House Democratic leader. Mr Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request proposed slashing federal spending on career and technical education by more than $1 billion, so this call for “great” vocational schools may have been just a promise or a wish.

To put this sort of wishful thinking in a broader context, let me remind you that President Barack Obama once proposed preschool and community college for all in a State of the Union address. So expect some of Mr Trump’s appeal for “common ground” and his vision of “all of us together … one American family” to go that way as well. He might even tweet something to the effect of that shift today or tomorrow or use vulgarity to describe another nation’s people.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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