K E Y P O I N T S
- Donald Trump heralded a “new American moment” for the US in an inaugural State of the Union address that was heavy on optimism and self-congratulation.
- In a plea for unity, the Republican President said: “I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, colour, religion and creed.”
- But divisions quickly emerged with a dig at football players who have knelt during the national anthem in protest against injustice against black people.
- The President also framed immigration as a violent threat to the US.
- The economy was the centerpiece of Trump’s address, hailing a booming stock market and more to come thanks to his recently-secured tax cuts - though critics pointed out much of this was inherited from the Obama era.
- He called on Congress to advance a $1.5 trillion plan to ‘rebuild our crumbling infrastructure’, which even Democrats applauded.
- He unveiled “four pillars” of his immigration plan to put “America First”, but a wall on the Mexican border and a new merit-based system has long been his goal.
- On foreign policy, Trump highlighted his successes in fighting ISIS, which largely continues Obama’s strategy.
- In the news from the speech, Trump signed an executive order to keep Guantanamo Bay prison open, reversing Obama’s order to close the Cuba detention centre.
- On North Korea, Trump railled against the “depraved character” of the regime, but made no explicit mention of military action.
V E R D I C T
‘Twitter Trump’ had the night off. For his first State of the Union address to Congress, ‘Teleprompter Trump’ took centre-stage.
There were very few ad-libs. No cries of “drain the swamp”. A lack of inappropriate and lewd stories about New York cocktail parties, as he offered when regaling 40,000 Boy Scouts at their annual jamboree.
On script, this was as close as Trump has come to being a conventional politician, opening with tributes to the heroic responses to a series of natural disasters that have devastated America in the last year and piling platitude upon platitude.
“If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it,” he opined, wistfully, in remarks so bland they could have been uttered by any president from any party at any time.
We’ve been here before, though.
In March last year, Trump addressed Congress for the first time and shocked the world with his low frequency. CNN political commentator and Democrat, Van Jones, even said it was the moment Trump “became president”. Yet Trump was soon after calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man”, defending white nationalists as “good people” and damning the “fake news” industry whenever possible. Not much had changed.
Advanced warning of Tuesday’s State of the Union emphasised that Trump was in conciliatory mood. Certainly more optimistic than his inauguration speech warnings of “American carnage” that could have been delivered by a Gotham City villain.
And, yes, talk of the “new American moment” and “extending an open hand” hinted at a light-touch rarely seen with Trump. Glum-faced and sceptical Democrats even cheered when Trump promised to lavish money on new infrastructure, and few would not be moved by the many stories of everyday American heroics that peppered the address.
But if ‘Teleprompter Trump’ is a mask, it soon slipped.
Trump pointed to “why we proudly stand for the national anthem”, a barely-disguised dig at NFL players who have taken a knee to protest injustice faced by black people. There has not been a bigger symbol of divided America and the culture war raging across the country.
And with the line that “Americans are dreamers too”, Trump was differentiating between the DREAMers - youngsters brought to the US illegally who face an uncertain future - and those born in the US.
On immigration, Trump more than once painted immigration as an ‘us vs them’ struggle, warning of “open borders” that “have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities” and “caused the loss of many innocent lives”. Framing immigration as a violent threat to the US seems to jar with the good vibes briefed out before the speech.
There was a flashpoint, too, when Trump suggested migrants can bring “an unlimited number of distant relatives” under the current system. “That’s lies!”, a Democrat reportedly shouted.
R E A C T I O N
From a Democrat ...
From an ex-Obama staffer ...
From the Press ...
Which was later changed after an outcry ...
From the right ...
From the far right ...
W H A T N E X T?
All eyes will be on Donald Trump’s next tweet and whether ‘Teleprompter Trump’ slips back into the shadows for another year. He made have tried, but it’s hard to gloss over the last 12 months.