Ever since the announcement of Donald Trump’s intentions to enter the Republican primary, this writer has been vexed at the president’s lack of oratory discipline. Even in speeches which were honed by campaign committee, Trump would travel off on extemporaneous tangents, often stirring criticisms by saying the outlandish.
These wrong turns on the speechmaking road were not taken during last week’s State of the Union Address. President Trump was pitch-perfect in his delivery of the annual report about the country’s status to the congress.
Apparently, Vice President Mike Pence and Special Adviser Steve Miller authored the speech. As a result, the speech was conservatively nuanced, in perfect tempo, and replete with anecdotal references to the heroic.
Problematic to the Democrats were their conspicuous histrionic reactions to the address. Their glaringly apparent disdain and stoicism showed a lack of respect for the office of the president. Furthermore, their dumb show of negativism will backfire. Polite and cordial applause would have been a smarter reaction for them politically.
As per usual, the State of the Union was general in tone without real specifics. Presidents like to convey grandiose ideas, while simultaneously avoiding hard specifics that will be ground down in the legislative process.
Latent with patriotism, the 80-minute speech riled positive feeling about our national identity. Thus, the speech achieved the most important basic chore of a State of the Union Address. The words reaffirmed our mutual concerns as a nation.
There were of course shortcomings. Some important pressing issues were mentioned, but there was little sense of how to handle them.
Nevertheless, when one considers President Trump’s record of presenting inconsistent and disjointed speeches, this was by far his best.
First and foremost, the positive atmospherics were set by the president’s sampling of stories about heroic Americans. The local fishermen of the so called “Cajun Navy,” who supported their fellow citizens in the wake of devastating southern hurricanes, like Hurricane Harvey, were highlighted. Similarly, Trump showcased Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who effectively completed her duties during the storm and saved 40 lives by her actions.
Additionally firefighter Dave Dahlberg, who fought wildfires at a camp in California and saved 60 kids by his brave actions, was also heralded.
The president also delivered appropriate kudos to Capitol Police, the Alexandria Police and all medical first responders who responded to the assault on congressmen who were practicing for a baseball game in Virginia. Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise was singled out by the president as a determined survivor of the attack. Scalise’s return to his work in the congress only three months after the critical attack was portrayed as emblematic of the American spirit.
By relating these profiles in courage, the president laid a foundation for the rest of the speech that was uplifting and reassuring.
Economically the president, like all presidents before him who benefited from an ascending graph, took credit for all the positive trends in the economy. Trump stated “Unemployment claims hit a 45 year low. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”
The president is correct in that recap. What he failed to mention was that curve upward started in August of 2013 and has not stopped its ascension since. Also, he neglected to inform that black unemployment is still double the rate of white unemployment. That puzzle has never been solved by any administration, Republican or Democrat.
Not one Democrat in the great chamber of the House of Representatives smiled or applauded or showed any acknowledgement of the positive societal trend. The lilt in the president’s cadence was appropriately prideful. Yet the Democrats sat on their hands. Along with the lack of at least perfunctory clapping, the Democrats sneered and displayed their displeasure in their commonly projected disdainful countenances.
The president also spoke of small business confidence being at an all time high. What statistic he used to substantiate this claim, I am not sure. The level of small business investment has been consistent for the last three years. In regards to large corporate investment and whether the cut in the corporate tax rate will lead to more domestic investment and repatriation of capital, it is simply too soon to tell. The corporate rate has been reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent, effective this year.
However, the real equalized average rate paid by corporations in the United States during the period of 2005 to 2015 was 13.8 percent. Thus, a reduction in the overall gross rate may not be as impactful as Trump hopes it will. Or more dangerously, the resulting lack of tax revenue will cause an astronomical increase in the national debt. Therefore, Trump is claiming a success not yet proven.
Trump touted the doubling of the standard deduction as great tax relief for the middle class with the passage of tax reform. Unfortunately, he did not mention that local and state taxes are much less deductible now. Also, in high property tax states like RI, the taxpayer’s ability to deduct state taxes on their federal return is greatly lessened. Thus the middle class taxpayer’s advantages, from the tax reform law, are much less than the president indicated in the State of the Union.
The president further spoke of the juggernaut of the stock market’s rising during his first year in office. He did not mention that 80 percent of stock market holdings are held by the top 9 to 11 percent of wealth holders in the country. The stock market’s run may indirectly benefit pensioners whose pension funds hold stocks. And, if one has a stock-driven 401K or an IRA, than they may be benefiting from the “Trump Effect” in the stock market. Most Americans are untouched by the renewed confidence prompted by Trump’s executive pen of deregulation, and tax reform.
According to Investor’s Quarterly, the president’s tax reform, which overwhelmingly benefits the affluent, and his rollback of regulation enables upper class Americans to amass greater wealth. Trump cunningly did not speak about who actually will yield the most exponents of the tax reform. He painted a more populous message, which bordered on being inspirational. Despite its inaccuracy, his delivery was powerful.
Immigration reform was also touched upon by the president. He reiterated his requirement of a southern border wall, he wants to end “Chain Migration” (family related squatting without status, such as anchor babies), he wants to repeal the Visa Lottery Program (thus cherry picking well-schooled immigrants over the unskilled to immigrate to the U.S.), and he stated he wants to establish a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers. All these stated aspirations were rhetorically lofty, but perhaps not practically turned into a reform law.
Additionally, the president mentioned the opioid crisis. He called the number of deaths “terrible.” Yet, no program was suggested and no funding offered.
The same was true with the $1.5 trillion Trump said was needed for infrastructure. No suggestion on how the money would be procured was stated. Trump only stated that private-public partnerships would be the preferred manner to accomplish this task. The vagueness of this suggestion and others were typical of a State of the Union address. Agendas were presented as destinations with no defined road map on how to get there.
Nevertheless, unlike his many speeches of the past which have been divisive, angered, accusatory and malicious, this address was markedly different.
Donald J. Trump addressed the nation in a presidential fashion. He was conventional in his subject manner. He was connective in his patriotic rhetoric. And, he was conciliatory in his demeanor.
Democrats seated in the chamber should have realized that their dramatic resistance, illustrated by their reactions, was self-defeating when receiving a speech of this kind.
All in all, the State of the Union was undoubtedly the best speech of the president’s political life.