We are now more than a year into the presidency of Donald Trump, and so it’s time for the president to address an aching nation, bruised and divided on a wide variety of social, political, economic, environmental and international issues. The State of the Union address was meant to be a platform where the president can tout accomplishments and set goals, but more recently a new theme has emerged. Partisanship is a toxic and destructive force in our current political climate, and presidential speeches of this kind have become more and more a plea to bipartisanship than a reflection. Donald Trump’s remarks on the issue not only missed the mark, but they were deliberate jabs at Democrats, serving to deepen the divide rather than bridge it.
The speech was marred with grand hyperbole, classic parenthetical Trumpisms, and genuinely touching moments, but no singular moment is as important as the general subtext of the speech. “We’ve won, and you’ve lost,” he seemed to be urging. His speech was slick and wily, and his ability to tie issues together seemed to dare the Democrats into standing for statements that mocked their long-held positions on a variety of issues. Here are a few examples.
“In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is ‘in God we trust,’” Trump said near the beginning of his speech.
On the face of it, this statement may not seem like a dig at the other side of the aisle, but a closer reading leads to the conclusion that the statement is a jab at Democrats. “Faith and family” are values often offered by the evangelical and Tea Party movements in their rebuke of gay marriages legality. And the emphasis of “in God we trust,” is a proxy for breaking down the wall between church and state. And these words aren’t without action; the Trump administration issued an “Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” which expanded the right of tax exempt religious groups to engage in political activities.
He did this multiple times during the night and on a diverse set of issues. Another prime example came right after the faith and family statement.
“And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support,” Trump said.
Again, and probably to a greater degree, any rejection of this statement would seem unpatriotic, but it too has a hidden trap for the Democrats. He ties together a serious issue of debate today — the role of police and widespread scrutiny of police conduct — with a issue that nearly everyone agrees with — that we should support our active military and veterans. By tying together these two issues he’s not only trying invalidate a liberal argument, but set the trap of having them remain seated and look unpatriotic.
But the Democratic Party isn’t without blame for the partisan world we the people have to live in. They’ve been unwilling to make sufficient compromises on a number of issues, leading to a perpetual cycle of unwillingness to collaborate.
Regardless of who’s fault it is, and both parties are certainly at fault, it’s the president’s role and responsibility to rise above the childish actions to be a moral center and call for unity. Donald Trump didn’t do that, he only played into the partisanship that plagues our government, further dividing those that need to come together.