Trump can reset the country by giving a civil State of the Union

Trump can reset the country by giving a civil State of the Union
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Few leaders have the opportunity to present their unabridged, candid message to their constituents. But each January, the president of United States is able to deliver an extended speech directly to our nation and to curious individuals around the world. President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama calls on Senate not to fill Ginsburg's vacancy until after election Planned Parenthood: 'The fate of our rights' depends on Ginsburg replacement Progressive group to spend M in ad campaign on Supreme Court vacancy MORE will give the State of the Union tonight, setting the tone for American policy, direction, and discourse in 2018 and beyond. Presidents use the address to unveil new ideas, present a vision for the future, and frame American leadership at home and abroad.

Unfortunately for the American people, Trump’s uneven first year in office picked up where his negative and polarizing presidential campaign left off. From his refusal to squarely condemn white supremacists following the death in Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer to his vulgar characterizations of other nations earlier this month, Trump has plainly failed to live up to certain expectations of the office.

Since his arrival as a presidential candidate, political pundits and party officials continually discuss whether Trump could ever achieve a true “reset” by breaking from the pattern he has established and moving toward a more dignified approach. The State of the Union presents a perfect opportunity to retreat from the rhetoric that has come to characterize his speeches. There are two principles that the president could adopt to start anew: an emphasis on collaboration and a focus on civil respectful discourse.


As Trump must realize over the past year, our system of American democracy requires compromise and collaboration. Separation of powers ensures that everyone in Washington must work together to achieve progress for the American people. So we expect that Trump will share his hopes and ideas on how we can create a brighter future by working in tandem with those who may often disagree with him. Collaboration is necessary not only for our politicians in Washington whose shaping of policy requires compromise, but also within our own communities where we must remember that there are more values that unite us as Americans than differences that divide us politically.

At the same time, Trump can use this address to pursue a more civil discourse, one that ensures respect for opponents and paves the way for collaboration. He can turn the page, leaving behind divisive “us against them” politics. He can harness the power to set a new course and a new tone for our country and our future that inspires our town halls, classrooms, and neighborly interactions. As Americans, we look forward to hearing the president’s plans for the future. His vision for rebuilding our infrastructure and strengthening our economy resonates with all Americans regardless of party.




Our history shows that when we are united, there is no hurdle too high to surmount and no barrier to rigid to break down so long as we seek collaborative solutions. That’s why, as the president explains his plan for “making America great again,” we hope he will look at what has made us great to begin with, which are collaborative solutions and a willingness to come together under our shared values. With a visionary agenda and a promise to do more listening than shouting, Americans can put the divisive rhetoric of the past two years behind us. But first, President Trump must set a tone of civility in his State of the Union address.

Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, Ph.D., is executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona.