On Tuesday, President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address. The event included all of the pomp, pageantry and politics that have come to define this annual report to Congress. The president was interrupted by applause 110 times during his nearly 80-minute speech. The president stuck to the script, stayed on the teleprompter and appeared tough but clearly toned-down from his preferred political rally style delivery. It is worth considering what he said, what he didn’t say, what listeners might have missed and why it matters for the future of the country.
Laced through his speech were important nods to faith and family. “In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.” Doubling of the child tax credit in tax reform, encouraging bipartisan work on a family leave bill and the impact of family on the opioid crisis were encouraging. He also spoke of defending religious liberty but did not delineate what actions were taken or what needed to happen next.
In an under-the-radar poke at the swamp of federal bureaucracy, Trump said, “All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower 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.” Ending waste, fraud, unchecked power and abuse within government must be included in any real transformation of Washington.
As expected, the president extended a bipartisan hand on immigration outlining the four pillars a solution should be built upon — a path for 1.8 million “Dreamers,” border security, ending the visa lottery system and ending chain migration. Partisans will argue over the border wall versus increased security measures and how to pay for it. Trump began this section of the speech with a focus on the compassion of the American people and his compassion for citizens who are struggling. The important drivers in the negotiations ahead should be compassion, respect for the rule of law, national security and family.
Regulatory reform has been a major thrust in the first year of the Trump administration. The president posed, “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” Oversight is important but excessive regulation by unaccountable bureaucrats hurts small businesses, communities and American workers. The president and Congress have much more work to do in this far-reaching space.
Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass., did an admirable job delivering the Democratic response. His piercing final line will be the ultimate test for both parties: “Politicians can be cheered for the promises they make. Our country will be judged by the promises we keep.”
Despite a general mood of optimism in Trump’s address, it is important to remember that the country is days away from another government shutdown, an immigration solution has a tough timetable to meet and national security threats pose a real and present danger. There is much to do.
Sweeping generalities and soaring rhetoric don’t solve problems — people do. When evaluating a State of the Union address delivered by a president of either political party, listeners should remember that, in Washington, after all is said and done, much more is said than done. The test for the president, Congress and the nation in the days ahead lies in finding sustainable solutions to the country’s pressing problems.