A House Divided: Trump Delivers State of the Union Address
by Kenny Larson
Although Americans are far from unexposed to ideological disagreements, the first year of the Trump administration has epitomized and reified the trend of political polarization across the nation. Protests across the United States, heavy media backlash, and deadly clashes on the streets of Charlottesville clearly illustrate the high-stakes game the American political system has become. In the wake of growing tensions, President Trump attempted to unify the nation in his State of the Union address to Congress on Jan. 30.
Whether or not Trump was able to accomplish this lofty goal is hotly debated. Immediate criticism from the Democrats came in the form of a State of the Union response speech from Representative Joseph Kennedy, who made an impassioned, and at times bilingual, call to action for Democrats across the country. In particular, Kennedy emphasized racial discrimination, Russia interference in the United States’ elections, gun violence, and protection for Dreamers, all without mentioning the president himself.
On the contrary, recent polls have illustrated that a majority of Americans viewed Trump’s speech in a positive light. According to a CBS News poll, nearly 75% of Americans that viewed the State of the Union approved of the speech, while 25% said they did not. In the same poll, a similar percentage of Americans (80%) believed that Trump was trying to unite the country rather than divide it. While it seems clear that viewers believed the speech was a step in the right direction, whether it was effective enough to ease the political divide has yet to be seen.
During the speech, Trump focused on several issues central to his campaign and voting base, the primary of which being the economic growth the country has undergone during his administration. Trump referenced various statistics regarding unemployment levels, emphasizing that the percentage of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans without work reached the lowest levels in history. In addition, Trump pointed out the stock market’s growth of nearly $8 trillion, as well as rising levels of confidence in small business, without citing any statistic as supporting evidence, as part of his administration’s contribution to economic strength. The President also touted his recent tax reform win, arguing it would be a boon for millions of Americans and companies based in the United States.
Of course, critics and political commentators on both sides of the aisle have questioned the validity of these claims. For instance, while Trump is correct that African-American and Hispanic-American unemployment levels are the lowest in United States history, those statistics have been true in almost every preceding year as well. Moreover, just weeks after Trump’s State of the Union Speech, the Dow Jones plunged well over 1000 points, one of the worst points decline in its existence. While recovery has been made, the damage is quite significant, and perceptually is almost certainly tied to the Trump administration. Similar criticisms have been made about Trump’s tax bill, which the vast majority of economists have argued will only have negative implications on the economy as well.
Another divisive topic the president addressed was immigration. Trump explicitly indicated that he looked forward to working with members of both the Republican and Democratic parties to craft a solution towards the recent immigration issue. In addition, Trump noted that he felt it was his duty, as well as the other elected officials in Congress, to protect Americans and their families because “Americans are dreamers too.” While some certainly appreciated the president’s sentiment, many on the left denounced his comment that Americans are dreamers because it effectively ignored all of his previous actions denouncing, criminalizing, and attacking undocumented immigrants.
Further controversy surrounding immigration also arose during the State of the Union when Nancy Pelosi invited dozens of Dreamers to the Capitol to illustrate the patriotism of Americans in every sense but legally. In response, Representative Paul Gosar called the police, asking them to arrest anyone (specifically the Dreamers) using fraudulent social security numbers to enter the building. Even while the president may be attempting to make strides to close the divide, it is clear that they have done little to change the mindsets of any lawmakers.
Back in early 1861, when the country was on the eve of the Civil War, political tensions were mounting and threats of secession in southern states were only growing in intensity. Whether or not the nation could survive the crisis of slavery was yet to be determined. In response, the recently elected senatorial nominee from Illinois argued that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The nominee, Abraham Lincoln, would go on to lead the United States during one of its most turbulent and defining period.
Today, while the country feels far from breaking apart, the similarities are clear. Although many Americans viewed the State of the Union as unifying, it was far from uncriticized, and whether or not it will serve to mend the country is unknown. For now, President Trump must continue to work to unify the country.