President Trump delivered his first State of the Union speech last night. In more than an hour, he touched on many topics. As is often the case, I don’t agree with everything he said. But overall, it was a very strong speech. There are three things in his speech that impressed me the most.
1. Gave Credit to the American People
People who don’t like President Trump often complain about how big his ego is. But during last night’s speech, he used very few “I”s. From the very beginning of his speech, he gave all the credit to the American people. He mentioned that through the challenges our nation faced last year, “We have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine. Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are and show us what we can be.”
He went on to highlight the volunteers of the Cajun Navy, who raced to save people in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane; “strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip”; Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who saved 40 lives during Hurricane Harvey; firefighter David Dahlberg, who “faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp, threatened by those devastating wildfires”; and Rep. Steve Scalise and the capitol police officers, the Alexandria police, and the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who saved lives during and after the congressional baseball field shooting.
All these American heroes showed the world that “no people on Earth are so fearless or daring or determined as Americans. 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…the state of our union is strong, because our people are strong.”
Even when the president touted the economic accomplishments of his first year in office, such as the low unemployment rate and rising wages, he didn’t use the “I” word. Instead, he said “We also doubled the child tax credit,” and “We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent, all the way down to 21 percent.” To personalize how much the tax cut benefits small business and especially ordinary Americans, the president highlighted Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger of Staub Manufacturing and one of their employees, Corey Adams, who plans to invest his tax cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ education.
President Trump wouldn’t be his true self if he didn’t take a jab at someone he disagreed with. However, he did it in a classy way this time. He took an indirect jab at some football players by praising Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from California, who started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of U.S. veterans. Trump’s trolling is much more effective when he praises what should be done.
The most heartwarming tribute to the American people last night was when President Trump recognized Ryan and Rebecca Holets. They adopted a little baby girl from a pregnant, homeless woman addicted to drugs. In President Trump’s words, Ryan and Rebecca “embody the goodness of our nation.” I have to admit that I felt some moisture in my eyes after seeing the image of the Holets and their beautiful (and a little sleepy) baby girl, Hope.
President Trump concluded his speech by reminding lawmakers that the dome they are sitting under is a “monument to the American people” and “this capital, this city, this nation, belongs entirely to them. Our task is to respect them, to listen to them, to serve them, to protect them and to always be worthy of them,” because “Americans fill the world with ardent music. They push the balance of science and discovery. And they forever remind us of what we should never ever forget. The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. ”
It’s mainly this tribute to Americans, coming from supposedly one of the most egotistic, self-centered presidents, that made this speech especially powerful and beautiful.
2. Extended Olive Branches on Immigration
Immigration is on everyone’s mind since the next federal government funding deadline is February 8. Congress has only a few days to come up with solutions to some of the most thorny immigration issues, such as how to deal with temporary amnesty recipients and border security.
In his speech, the president reiterated the outline the White House offered about a week ago.
- A 10- to 12-year path to citizenship for about 1.8 million Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-eligible illegal immigrants. This is a surprising offer from a president who campaigned with some of the toughest rhetoric against illegal immigrants.
- In exchange, he seeks $25 billion funding for border security measures.
- He wants to change legal immigration systems by eliminating the visa lottery system and reducing chain migration by prioritizing family members “to spouses and minor children only.”
- He also wants to implement a merit-based immigration system.
I don’t think it’s fair for the president to blame chain migration for endangering our nation based on two terror attacks. But I do agree with him that our current legal immigration system is broken and no longer serves our nation’s interests. We should have a merit-based immigration system, “One that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.”
The president calls his plan a “fair compromise. One where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs and must have,” and said we need to “finally bring our immigration system into the twenty-first century.”
He has taken some heat from his base with this proposal. The question is whether Democrats will accept the president’s olive branch: will Democrats work with the president to enact the immigration reform our country needs, or will they continue to hold millions of DACA recipients as hostages for possible political gains?
3. Lent Moral Support to Oppressed People
No State of the Union speech is complete without talking about foreign policy. Unlike his predecessors, President Trump put human faces on the brutality of oppressive regimes. When he declared that “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom,” I imagined how much these words will boost the morale of the Iranian protesters.
But his master stroke came when he talked about North Korea. He first mentioned Otto Warmbier, an American student North Korea illegally arrested and tortured, and who passed away last year. Otto’s parents were among the special guests of the president last night. The president recognized them as “powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, “ and said their “strength truly inspires us all.” The president “pledged to honor Otto’s memory with total American resolve.” That was a great moment.
Another great moment followed when the president shared the story of Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea. The president recounted Ji and his family’s suffering in North Korea and how Ji lost his legs. Ji now lives in South Korea and “rescues other defectors and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears most. The truth.”
When Ji proudly lifted his crutches on the balcony, he was a truly inspiring testament of what yearning for freedom looks like. As the president put it beautifully, “It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America.” For all of Trump’s critics, does this poetic sentence sounds like it’s coming from an isolationist?
Overall, President Trump delivered a commanding speech with heartwarming examples and a conciliatory tone. He was statesman-like. Democrats are hopelessly in resistance mode, so they won’t give Trump credit for anything good that has happened under his watch. But he was speaking directly to the American people and people around world suffering under oppressive regimes. I’m impressed and hopeful. Many share similar sentiments, and that’s what really matters.