I went into the State of the Union address trying to keep an open mind. President Donald Trump spent the first year of his presidency spewing hateful ideas and promoting policies harmful to our democratic institutions and Americans. Still, I had hoped the president would take steps to unify our increasingly fractured nation. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
In what was ostensibly a unifying speech, calls for unity were overshadowed by Trump's inflammatory rhetoric and his usual divisive proposals. For example, the president spoke about the importance of faith and family, yet later in the speech he proposed to disintegrate immigrant families. In America, we believe family includes mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children. His xenophobic call to prevent parents, siblings and adult children from immigrating to America is un-American, divisive and anti-family. And rather than call this legal immigration what it is — family reunification — Trump used the derogatory and offensive phrase “chain migration.”
After a year of desecrating many of our institutions — by discrediting the FBI, filling his cabinet with self-dealers, fighting with the media, calling neo-Nazis “fine people” and insulting citizens reeling from hurricanes — the president actually said, “All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them.” He’s right that it’s what Americans deserve, but it’s definitely not what we’ve gotten in the last year.
Trump sought praise for an economy that President Barack Obama resuscitated and for the passage of the tax bill. The one promise Trump did manage to keep was to give out huge corporate handouts. How has that helped the American worker? Companies including Walmart, AT&T, Kimberly-Clark and Comcast touted bonuses spurred by tax reform, but they're collectively laying off thousands of employees. In fact, job growth during President Trump’s first year was the lowest in six years.
The president, however, did propose some good ideas. His calls for paid family leave, prison reform and investment in infrastructure can receive bipartisan support, depending on the details. In terms of infrastructure, 153 Democratic members of Congress have signed on to a set of principles that I introduced last May calling for a bold investment in our nation’s infrastructure. I, along with other colleagues, have also introduced a detailed $2 trillion infrastructure plan; Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion plan. This is an area where Democrats and the administration potentially could work together to move America forward.
Aside from these key issues, some of what shocked me the most is what Trump didn’t say. He said that “we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal” without mentioning the most pressing and dangerous threat we face: climate change. We just wrapped up our third-warmest year on record, according to NOAA, and have already experienced some of its most devastating consequences. Rising temperatures and droughts have been linked to the wildfires that devastated California and other states last year. Instead of being forward-looking by promoting job creation in eco-friendly and sustainable energy production, like solar, President Trump again promoted a declining coal industry.
He spoke of protecting the Second Amendment without mentioning the mass shooting in Las Vegas last October, the worst in modern U.S. history. Banning the bump stocks that led to so many casualties that night is largely bipartisan, yet it has still stalled in Congress. Presidential leadership in this arena would truly save lives. Moreover, he also failed to elaborate on how his administration will address the ongoing threat posed to our democracy by the Kremlin, after he declined imposing congressional sanctions against Russia this week.
Last year, during his joint address to Congress, President Trump made a number of overtures about coming together to solve our nation’s problems. Instead, we’re now more divided than ever. Trump used the same talking points last night without making any substantive assertions about the challenges we face as a nation. On key issues, his silence spoke volumes. And that silence was punctuated by harmful immigration rhetoric. We deserved a better State of the Union.
Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) represents California's 33rd Congressional District.