Trump aims for national unity but leaves America as divided as ever

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President Trump’s first State of the Union aimed for national unity, but will likely leave America as divided as it was before he delivered his speech. Nearly 60 percent of the country believes it is headed in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the continued downward slope of unemployment has not made our politics any less acrid. Nor has the running of Wall Street’s bulls drowned out the footsteps of Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Oval Office and those closest to Donald Trump.

Tuesday night, the president attempted to speak to the country as a whole, but if past is prelude, the divides will remain. Indeed, after the speech, Trump left no doubt about that, caught on a hot mic saying that he would definitely release the Devin Nunes memo.

{mosads}For the record, the speech was Trump’s attempt at calm, even as our political storms rage. It was an effort to map out his legislative agenda as the Republican majority in the Senate hangs by a thread, and a shot at forging a compromise over immigration, the most contentious issue of all, one that has repeatedly eluded resolution.

On immigration, the president called for a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, those illegal immigrants brought into the United States as children. At the same time, Trump combined his offer with a demand for increased border security, including a wall, and stricter immigration requirements. For good measure, Trump mentioned the word “gangs” five times.

Ultimately, whether Trump can reach such a deal without alienating his base, and whether the Democrats can say “yes” to anything that remotely approaches the contours of Trump’s proposal are doubtful. Trump’s reference to chain migration earned him audible displeasure from some Democrats.

Not surprisingly, Trump gave a shout out to the Second Amendment, while ignoring the First Amendment. The right to bear arms took pride of place over free speech and a free press. Trump lauded the bravery of those “strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip,” but refused to acknowledge any causality between gun policy and that horrific event.

To be sure, omission of the First Amendment could only be seen as deliberate. Just hours before the address, presidential aide Kellyanne Conway compared the American press to the Kremlin. In an interview with CNN, Conway argued that the media “interfered” with the 2016 election.

As for the First Amendment and freedom of the press, Conway had nothing to say. Ironically, after Conway’s interview, a 2016 radio broadcast surfaced of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, at the time Oklahoma’s attorney general, saying that Trump “would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama, and that’s saying a lot.”

Although Trump never mentioned “democracy,” he singled out rogue regimes such as North Korea, Iran, and Cuba for approbation. As for Russia and China, they were simply labelled as rivals who posed a challenge to American interests. In Trump’s world, the postwar liberal order is a relic.


On its face, the speech contained no explicit reference to Mueller or his investigation. Yet, there was more than a whiff of ambiguity on that score. Trump called on Congress to enact legislation empowering “every Cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers, and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.” Somehow, this didn’t sound like it was about just civil service reform.

Indeed, NBC had earlier reported that the president was looking to make the Justice Department his own legal handmaiden and have it prosecute Mueller. According to a friend of the president, if Trump couldn’t fire Mueller, he might as well haul him before a grand jury that was not of Mueller’s own choosing.

As is a president’s prerogative, Trump took credit for jobs growth, tax cuts, and the stock market. Yet on Tuesday, the market suffered its worst day since Brexit. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 360 points, while the dollar limped along and the bond market continued to sag. All this is a potential omen of what might come next with America’s economy getting in sync with its politics.

On the floor, Democratic women dressed in black, and Melania Trump wore white as she sat in the gallery. Republicans delighted in the speech, the third longest in history, while for the most part Democrats were unmoved. In the end, it was politics as usual, or at least what we have come to expect.

Lloyd Green was the opposition research counsel to the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988 and later served in the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tags Americans Barack Obama Congress Devin Nunes Donald Trump economy Government Immigration Kellyanne Conway Melania Trump Robert Mueller Scott Pruitt

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