The tone of the State of the Union address was optimistic Tuesday night as President Donald J. Trump claimed he had rebuilt American values and freedom over the last three years.
“Jobs are booming. Incomes are soaring. Poverty is plummeting. Crime is falling. Confidence is surging. And our country is thriving and highly respected again,” Trump told the 116th U.S. Congress. “America’s enemies are on the run. America’s fortunes are on the rise. America’s future is blazing bright. The years of economic decay are over.”
The address came during a busy political week with the Iowa caucuses and his impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of justice. An air of positivity filled the House of Representatives’ chamber — notwithstanding Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi standing next to each rigidly, without exchanging words, nor Trump shaking Pence’s hand, but not Pelosi’s before his speech.
Amid chants of “four more years,” Trump highlighted the economy, criminal justice reform, trade, national security, immigration and health care. He was especially proud of unemployment being at 3.5 percent in December, its lowest in 50 years, and creating “7 million new jobs,” although that figure is closer to 6.7 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump also talked about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade deal he signed on Jan. 29, that replaced what he described as the “disastrous” North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Stating unfair trade as one of the biggest reasons he decided to run for president, Trump listed what he considered to be several pros of the new deal, stating it creates fairness and reciprocity, is backed by labor unions, will create 100,000 high-paying auto jobs and boost exports from farmers, ranchers and factory workers.
He urged Congress to introduce bipartisan legislation that would lower the cost of prescription drugs, which was met with chants of “H.R. 3,” a bill that passed through the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.
The president also discussed a range of projects including the new Space Force, the sixth branch of the military dealing with operations in space; NASA’s Artemis Program for continued lunar exploration and an eventual goal to land on Mars; and Opportunity Zones in which investors and taxpayers receive tax benefits if they invest in low-performing economic areas.
While President Trump did not always rely on data to substantiate his claims, he did use a powerful persuasive tool — pathos. He underscored his points with the emotional stories of several guests. To highlight terrorism, he introduced Kelli and Gage Hake, whose husband and father, Christopher Hake, was killed in Iraq. He denounced sanctuary cities through a tearful Jody Jones, whose brother, Rocky Jones, was murdered by a “criminal alien.” Ellie Schneider, a little girl who was born prematurely at 21 weeks, represented neonatal research and bans on late-term abortion.
During his speech, Trump also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor, to Rush Limbaugh. The conservative radio host, who has advanced lung cancer, has been denounced for regularly making negative comments about race, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability.
Trump received the typical standing ovations, whoops and cheers that characterize the annual presidential address. “In my view, this was an outstanding speech by President Trump,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “The compelling nature of the economy was well explained; how everybody, from all walks of life, are benefiting from this economy.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated his support for Trump’s leadership and the direction in which he has taken America.
“President Trump continues to lead an American foreign policy that bolsters our security and prosperity, strengthens our alliances and partnerships, and protects our precious freedoms,” Pompeo said. “All Americans can be proud of President Trump’s resolve to put American interests and values first and restore respect [for] American leadership on the world stage.”
However, not everyone was impressed with Trump or his speech. A few notable Congressional representatives were absent from the State of the Union address. U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Ayana Presley, D-Mass., announced via Twitter that they would not be in attendance.
To think that I would attend the #SOTU to hear the message of an IMPEACHED president is a thought that in no way would be consistent w/ my fight and struggle against this dishonorable president. I will certainly NOT be there!
— Maxine Waters (@RepMaxineWaters) February 4, 2020
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., also took to Twitter to announce she walked out of the chamber during the speech.
“I walked out of that speech. The lies, the bigotry, and the shameless bragging about taking away food stamps that people depend on to live — it was all beneath the dignity of the office he occupies,” Tlaib tweeted. “Shame on this forever impeached president.”
Perhaps the most notable action in protest of the address came from Pelosi, who stacked the pages of the speech and tore them in half promptly at the conclusion of the address.
Jaylin Ward, a sophomore Interdisciplinary Studies Program major from The Bronx, New York, was also not impressed.
“I’ve seen people shaking his hand and saying it’s … the best State of the Union address,” Ward said. “But there was a more visceral reaction to Nancy Pelosi ripping up his speech and the way she was going through her notes while he was speaking.
“Their argument is that she is demeaning such a high position, and I think Trump has done that,” Ward said of Republican reaction to Pelosi. “We have a sexist, xenophobic, racist, white man in the presidency right now, which is not new, but it’s worse.”
“The state of the union is torn because of him.”