After two years of some of the most ferocious partisan politics the country has known, and against the backdrop of a still-unresolved federal shutdown, President Donald Trump made an eloquent call for national unity and bipartisan cooperation in his State of the Union message.
As he said at the beginning of the speech: “Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one Nation.
“The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It is the agenda of the American people.
“Many of us campaigned on the same core promises: to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our Nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs … and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”
It must not have been easy. The president knew going into it that no matter what he would say on behalf of working together, he would again be accused of the opposite. Indeed, that was the case, as various commentators characterized the speech as “divisive.”
Yet, with the exception of known points of contention on which he could not have been expected to surrender, the address was in fact a call to unity, citing achievements that belong to the American people as a whole:
“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before. We have created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible to do, but the fact is, we are just getting started.”
Even the most populist-minded Democrats could not argue with the improved state of the economy, improvements that make talk of socialism irrelevant. All they could do was refuse to applaud, which they did.
President Trump reiterated the need for “a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure … I know that the Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill — and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment…”
Critics faulted him for not offering specifics, but a state of the union message is not necessarily a platform for giving a detailed program. In any case, a year ago Mr. Trump did give specifics, asking for $200 billion over 10 years for infrastructure, a proposal that Congress did not act on.
It’s not empty rhetoric; the administration is already working on it. Acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler and other officials are planning events around the country this week to discuss infrastructure. Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he has been consulting with administration officials about an infrastructure plan. That’s where the details will be thrashed out.
The president spoke about what’s being done for those in need: commending the last Congress for bipartisan legislation to confront the opioid crisis, historic VA reforms, “and after four decades of rejection, we passed VA Accountability so we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans,” and he asked the current Congress for $500 million for research on new cancer treatments.
The State of the Union also included a strong message of friendship to the Jews in Israel and throughout the world:
“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”
President Trump paid homage to the 11 people who were murdered in Pittsburgh in the worst anti-Semitic crime on record in United States history. He honored Judah Samet on his 81st birthday, a survivor twice-over — first from the Holocaust, more recently from the Pittsburgh massacre, where he also narrowly escaped death.
A second Holocaust survivor was in the House chamber on Tuesday night, Joshua Kaufman, who lived through the horrors of Dachau. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks.
“To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that G-d exists, and they came down from the sky.”
President Trump concluded with a fitting challenge to the nation and its leaders: “We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.
“Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”
We second that call.