Photo courtesy of CNN
Contributions by Caleb Revill / Assistant News Editor
After a tumultuous year of controversy, political division and many changes to the way that the country is governed since the Obama era, President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address Tuesday. The president spent over an hour discussing a new “tide of optimism,” highlighting his administration’s accomplishments and voicing his continued vision for American economics and security. For those that missed the president’s inaugural State of the Union address, read below for Trump’s biggest talking points.
Trump began the speech by remembering the heroes and victims of the many national tragedies, both natural and not, that the country endured in 2017.
“We have faced challenges we expected and others we could never have imagined,” Trump said. “We have shared in the heights of victory and the pains of hardship. We have endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine.”
Trump reminded the audience of acts of bravery, such as the Cajun Navy racing to rescue people in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and strangers being shielded from gunfire by other strangers during the Las Vegas shooting.
“To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, everywhere, we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together, always,” Trump said.
He then recognized Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert for her life-saving efforts during Hurricane Harvey and firefighter David Dahlberg for rescuing almost 60 children who were put in danger during the California Whittier wildfire.
“In the aftermath of that terrible shooting, we came together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as representatives of the people,” Trump said. “But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy.”
Businesses and tax reform
In the first major portion of his speech, Trump acknowledged his administration’s economic accomplishments and touted the passing of the recent Republican tax reform.
“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone,” Trump said. “Tremendous number.”
While it is true that 2.4 million jobs have been added since the 2016 election, that number includes jobs that were added during November and December of 2016 and January of 2017, when Obama was still president. However, the addition of 200,000 jobs for American factories is the largest since 2014.
Trump then announced, “After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.”
Despite there being no large wage increase for the average American wage earner, wages did grow by an average of 2.5 percent in 2017.
Trump proudly stated that unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low and that African American unemployment and Hispanic unemployment reached the lowest rates in history.
The president then acknowledged the “as promised” biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.
“Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small business, to lower tax rates for hard-working Americans,” Trump said. “We nearly doubled the standard deduction for everyone.”
Despite Trump continuously pushing the narrative that the tax reform created under his administration is, first and foremost, benefiting the middle class and small businesses, 65 percent of savings that come from the tax cut will benefit taxpayers in the top 20 percent of the income ladder, and 20 percent of savings will go to the top one percent, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Trump explained that the business tax rate has gone from 35 percent to 21 percent, the first $24,000 earned by a married couple is now tax-free and that the average family income is estimated to increase by $4,000, which is a statistic that has been widely debated by economists. He said that approximately three million Americans have received bonuses due to the tax cuts and that companies, such as Apple and Exxon, have invested billions of dollars into American jobs.
“This, in fact, is our new American moment,” Trump said. “There has never been a better time to start living the American dream. So, to every citizen watching at home tonight, no matter where you have been or where you have come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything. And together, we can achieve absolutely anything.”
Unity and civic duty
In the following section of his speech, Trump engaged in, what many would call, a summoning of unity for the American people.
“All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family, can do anything,” Trump said. “We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag.”
Trump emphasized the importance of being faithful to the military, veterans and the American flag. The president related the commitment of the veterans to the reason why all Americans should salute the flag and why we “proudly” stand during the national anthem. It is unclear as to whether Trump was making a direct reference to a slew of 2017 protests, in which football players across the nation knelt during the national anthem. At the time of the protests, Trump condemned the athlete’s actions and responded to the kneeling in a tweet, which said, “Kneeling is not acceptable.”
Trump also specified that his administration is appointing supreme court justices that will “interpret the Constitution as written.” In April of 2017, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to be the 113th justice of the Supreme Court, which was a triumph for the Trump administration. Throughout Trump’s campaign, he promised to bring a conservative justice to replace the deceased Antonin Scalia.
Trump went on to announce that his administration will continue to protect Second Amendment rights and religious liberty, two cornerstones of the traditional Republican platform.
Veterans Choice, the controversial program that allows veterans to see private healthcare providers, who then get reimbursed by the Department of Veteran Affairs, was touched on during the speech. Trump signed an executive order that extended the program for six months and allocated $2.1 billion to the effort. In September of 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement, in which they acknowledged that the extra funding may be depleted as early as the first few months of 2018.
Trump also stated that the Food and Drug Administration approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in history. He added that this will lead to “breakthrough cures” and “affordable generic drugs.”
“We also believe that patients with terminal conditions, terminal illness, should have access to experimental treatment immediately that could potentially save their lives,” Trump said.
Trump said that he wishes to give every American the opportunity to find treatment within the country, rather than seeking foreign aid. He then reiterated that his administration is working to lower the price of drugs and that it was one of his highest priorities for 2018. In the past, Trump has said that he wants Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices to help bring prices down.
“And prices will come down substantially,” Trump said. “Watch. America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our wealth.”
Trump stated, in the latter half of his speech, that something had to be done about the drug and drug overdose “epidemic” within the country. In October of 2017, Trump declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency.
“My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need (and) for those who have been so terribly hurt,” Trump said. “The struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but as Americans always do, in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail.”
Trump said that, to fight against the issue, his administration will be much tougher on drug dealers and pushers. The Justice Department, under the lead of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has been instructed to seek the highest possible charges for drug offenders.
Infrastructure and energy
Trump made the bold statement during his address that his administration has ended the war on “American energy” and “beautiful, clean coal.” Despite Trump’s claim, there is little evidence of there ever being a war on American energy. Natural gas and domestic oil production steadily increased throughout Obama’s administration in the United States. While Trump often emphasizes his success in bringing back coal, the industry is still in decline. Many traditionally coal-dependent means of generating electricity have switched to natural gas.
“We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world,” Trump said.
Trump then explained his efforts to bring car companies back to America. He said that companies are now “building and expanding plans in the United States.”
“Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan,” Trump said. “Toyota and Mazda are opening up a plant in Alabama, a big one. And we haven’t seen this in a long time. It’s all coming back.”
While what Trump stated about Chrysler is true, many car companies are expanding in China much more rapidly than they are in America. General Motors, for example, planned in 2014 to in invest $12 billion in expansion in China and build more plants there from 2014 to 2017.
“As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” Trump said.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the country’s railways, highways, waterways, tunnels, schools, airports, sewer systems and water are worthy of an overall grade of D-plus.
Trump then called on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillian for a new infrastructure investment. According to reports by The Atlantic, the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan was expected to cost around $1 billion before the president’s State of the Union address.
“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land,” Trump said. “And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.”
Trump doubled down on his previously voiced concerns regarding the country’s immigration policies.
“For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities,” Trump said. “They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans.”
According to reports by NPR, illegal crossings of the Mexican border have fallen to their lowest level since 1971 in 2017.
Trump used Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenage girls who were murdered by members of the MS-13 gang, as an example during the speech. He stated that the gang members took advantage of “glaring loopholes” in U.S. immigration laws.
“While we cannot imagine the depths of that kind of sorrow, we can make sure that other families never have to endure this kind of pain,” Trump said. “Tonight I am calling on Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminal gangs to break into our country.”
Trump then announced that the House and Senate will soon be voting on an immigration reform package.
In September of 2017, Trump announced plans to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which would leave over $3 million people in the U.S. in legal limbo and at risk of being uprooted from their homes. Within the last week, a deal was proposed, in which a 10 to 12-year path to citizenship would be created for up to $1.8 million DACA recipients. In exchange, Trump would be provided with $25 billion for the border wall and other security measures.
“My administration has met extensively with both Democrats and Republicans to craft a bipartisan approach to immigration reform,” Trump said. “Based on these discussions, we presented Congress with a detailed proposal that should be supported by both parties as a fair compromise. One where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs and must have.”
Trump clarified that, under the current immigration system, a single immigrant can bring in “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” Under the new deal, if approved, sponsorships would be limited to spouses and children.
In closing, Trump focused on international threats and solutions for the fight against powerful regimes.
“Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy and our values,” Trump said.
According to reports by Reuters, China’s military budget for 2017 was confirmed to see an increase of seven percent, which is about one-quarter of the proposed U.S. defense budget for the year.
“In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense,” Trump said. “For this reason, I am asking Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.”
Trump then stated that the U.S. must rebuild and reform its nuclear arsenal.
“Hopefully never having to use it but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else,” Trump said.
Trump also said that he will continue to work with all U.S. allies to fight against ISIS.
“I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100% of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria and in other locations as well,” Trump said.
Trump announced that he is calling on Congress to ensure that the country has the power to detain terrorists “wherever we chase them down.” He emphasized the importance of keeping Guantanamo Bay open for this purpose.
“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally, more brutally, than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening.”
Trump has repeatedly stressed his intolerance of the North Korean regime throughout his presidency. In 2017, Trump stated that America’s nuclear arsenal was “much bigger (and) more powerful” than that of North Korea. He has taunted Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, by dubbing him “Rocket Man,” and he threatened the country with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
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