Solidarity or Strife? President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address to a Divided Nation

Solidarity or Strife? President Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address to a Divided Nation

Kavya Weaver '20, News Editor

On February 5, millions of Americans watched President Donald Trump deliver his 2nd annual State of the Union address. In his characteristic provocative style, Trump offered both a conciliatory and divisive message. In an 82 minute speech, Trump covered a variety of controversial topics, including the construction of a wall along the Southern border, the current state of the economy, foreign policy, abortion, and public safety. Delivered at one of the most contentious times in U.S. history, Trump sought to both unite the nation and assert his refusal to concede his administrative goals for 2019.

Opening with a bipartisan appeal, the president declared “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good.” This line received applause from both parties and a standing ovation from Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Trump’s plea for compromise was aptly delivered — the 2019 State of Union address was rescheduled because of a political stalemate over funding for the border wall. This dispute resulted in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, which lasted from December 22, 2018 to January 25, 2019. Supporters of Trump’s address praised his call to unity, but opponents who criticize Trump for consistently refusing to cooperate with Congress called this declaration hypocritical and disingenuous.  Trump continued his unifying appeal by extolling great American accomplishments that are revered across partisan lines, including the Apollo 11 space mission to the moon and the liberation of concentration camps by American forces during World War II. Trump also devoted several minutes of speech to listing his administration’s economic breakthroughs for women over the past two years. His line No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year” prompted thunderous applause from both Democrats and Republicans, but especially from the group of Democratic women dressed in white to pay homage to the suffragettes. Although progress has been made for American women in the workplace over the past few years, many political strategists believe Trump’s presidency cannot claim responsibility for these advances. Additionally, a study released by the Pew Research Center conducted in October of 2018 reported that only 30% of American women approve of the work Trump’s administration has been doing. Although Trump’s claims may be debatable across partisan lines, the resounding applause that echoed throughout the House of Representatives Chamber following the president’s affirmations of past and present U.S. accomplishments prove that many Americans can still rally together to support social progress, no matter their political views.

Although Trump dedicated a large part of his address to his call for collaboration, his tone swerved from civil to confrontational on numerous occasions. Right now in the government, one of the most contentious issues is the construction of a wall along the southern border, a project that Trump promised to execute when he was campaigning. However, now that Democrats have the House majority, Trump has struggled to gather enough funding to complete this project. The political battle over the construction of the wall has led to the longest government shutdown in history, increased friction between Democrats and Republicans, and Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency on February 15, a political move that he alluded to in his State of the Union address. When Trump veered into the portion of his speech devoted to promoting the construction of the wall, Republicans applauded loudly and Democrats tensed, creating a palpable atmosphere of hostility. Trump spent several minutes listing the benefits of building a wall and cited statistics to suggest that walls do actually decrease crime rates along the Southern border. The president continued making the case for a wall by stating, “The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well-being of all America” and that “Walls work, and walls save lives.” The claims Trump made during this part of his speech are highly controversial, as many critics claim that Trump uses misleading statistics to oversimplify complicated border situations and employs fear mongering to create a “manufactured crisis.” However, the president has succeeded in rallying support for his wall among many Americans, as recent data shows that 69% of Republicans believe that expanding the wall would lead to a major decrease in illegal immigration, and many supporters of Trump commend the president for prioritizing border security.

Trump continued on by directly condemning the Special Counsel Investigation, which has spent nearly two years seeking to uncover the extent to which Russia illegally interfered with the 2016 election and the extent to which Trump was involved. Trump’s statement “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” was a clear admonishment of Democratic supporters of the investigation. While Democrats called these statements threatening and suggestive of the president’s desire to hide corruption, Republican supporters praised Trump’s head-on confrontation of the investigation and his prioritization of other political issues.

A recently published Wall Street Journal poll reported an alarming statistic: at this moment in American history, 8 out of every 10 Americans believe that the nation is irreparably divided. Rivalry between opposing political groups has always been a sign of a healthy democracy, one characterized by an open-minded and politically aware population and government that allows space for representatives of different ideologies to peacefully debate. However, over the past several years, hostility between Democrats and Republicans has escalated to a frightening level, tearing apart families, communities, and our capital, as reflected in the controversial nationwide reception of Trump’s State of the Union address. As we enter into 2019, only a unified and conscious effort on the part of all Americans and all government leaders will be able to defuse the raging bitterness and animosity and restore a civil and harmonious nation. Only then will we be able to confidently and truthfully call the state of our union strong.