President Donald Trump called for unity across party lines in his first State of the Union speech following a contentious opening year for his administration.
Speaking to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, the president told Democrats and Republicans, “[I]t is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy. Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people. This is really the key. These are the people we were elected to serve.”
Screen capture from C-Span
President Trump called for unity across party lines in his first State of the Union speech following a contentious opening year for his administration.
Trump pointed to the accomplishments of his first year in the White House, citing – among other achievements – growth in new jobs, tax relief for middle-class Americans and small businesses, a record-setting stock market, historic government deregulation, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and defeat of the terroristic Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in those two countries. He also referred to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and appeals court judges “who will interpret the Constitution as written,” as well as the defense of the right to bear arms and “historic actions to protect religious liberty.”
His proposals included the reduction of prescription drug prices, at least $1.5 trillion for infrastructure and foreign aid only for America’s friends.
In another request for unity, the president said, “All of us, together, as one team, one people and one American family, can do anything. We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny and the same great American flag.
“Together, we are rediscovering the American way. In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of American life. The motto is: ‘In God we trust.’”
The president’s appeals did not gain a unified response, however. Democratic leaders criticized the speech, which was not unexpected, especially given the close election that put Trump in the White House.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York tweeted, “After a long and divisive year, many Americans were yearning for the President to present a unifying vision for the country. Unfortunately, his [State of the Union] address stoked the fires of division instead of bringing us closer together.”
Also on Twitter, House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Trump “presented a self-congratulatory speech w/o vision. He promised unity, but sowed division. America deserves better.”
Republicans, meanwhile, commended their party’s standard-bearer.
Trump “said it right – the state of our union is strong,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of Wisconsin in a tweet. “He laid out a clear agenda tonight with an open hand toward bipartisan cooperation. Together, we can continue making America safer and stronger for the 21st century.”
Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said in a written statement, “The President set a very conciliatory tone as he walked through various topics. … The President’s terms, his tone, and his presentation were focused on the good that is happening” in the country.
Trump largely declined to address explicitly moral and social issues. He did not comment on the pro-life gains his administration achieved or supported during his first year in the White House.
One pro-life juncture came when he told the story of Ryan Holets, an Albuquerque, N.M., police officer who last year saw a pregnant, homeless woman on the verge of injecting herself with heroin. When he warned her she would harm her unborn baby, she wept and told him she longed for a safe home for her child.
“In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: ‘You will do it, because you can’ He heard those words,” Trump said. “He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then he went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope. Ryan and Rebecca, you embody the goodness of our nation. Thank you.”
The Holets and their daughter Hope were seated with First Lady Melania Trump.
On immigration reform, the president called for support of his recently released framework that called for a path to citizenship for about 1.8 million undocumented immigrants brought into this country as children, $25 billion for a wall on the southern border and other security measures, an end to family sponsorship beyond spouses and children and elimination of the visa lottery system for countries with low rates of immigration. The proposal has met resistance from some among both liberals and conservatives.
In his speech, Trump described the plan as “a down-the-middle compromise and one that will create a safe, modern and lawful immigration system.”
“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream, because Americans are dreamers, too,” he said in an apparent takeoff on the use of Dreamers to refer to those who were brought to this country by their undocumented, immigrant parents.
The president called for prison reform that will help “former inmates who have served their time get a second chance at life.”
Trump did not address directly the racial turmoil that has marked his first year in office and which has sometimes been fueled by his comments. He said he is “very proud” African American unemployment “stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” His comment at one point about proudly standing for the national anthem seemed to be a follow-up to his criticisms in the fall of National Football League players who knelt during the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest social injustice.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)