The South Asian Times

21 January 2019 02:44 AM

Trump's address to the nation was all right

By Shivaji Sengupta

With his State of the Union address on January 30, Donald Trump arrived at his first landmark as President. Officially, this is an annual message given by the POTUS to a joint session of Congress, except in the first year of a new president's term. The address includes a budget message and an economic report of the nation, and also allows the President to outline the country’s legislative agenda and national priorities.

The address fulfills rules in Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution, requiring the President to periodically "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." In the 18th and 19th centuries the President primarily only submitted a written report to Congress. After 1913, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th US President, began the practice of delivering the address to Congress in person as a way to rally support for his agenda. With the advent of radio and television - and now the Internet - the address is now broadcast live across the country on many networks, and thus is also used by the President as a platform to speak directly to the American people. This year 45.6 million people watched it.

Thus, unofficially – and traditionally – it has become a self-laudatory report card on the president’s achievements in the year gone by, created by the president himself: something this president is very good at doing.

Personally, perhaps like many Democrats, I was a reluctant viewer, primarily because of my bias against this president. As it turned out, however, this was a standard State of the Union: the president marching out his own achievements, with almost no acknowledgement of his administration. Typically Trump, many “facts” were exaggerated, interspersed with the usual superlatives like “incredible” and “extraordinary,” superlatives that, like his “facts” have become a bit of a bore. There was, at the outset, some attempts at “bipartisanship,” but, alas, one side of the bipartisan – the Democrats - did not fall for it.

Structurally, Trump’s State of the Union can be seen as the achievements of America for which he, as president, is primarily responsible; acknowledgement of noteworthy heroic deeds of 14 Americans of various ages and ethnicities; a hugely trumpeted economic report, particularly the landmark Tax Reform; surprising paucity on foreign affairs (particularly relations with Russia) although he did talk tough on terrorism; and a plea to bipartisanship in getting Congress to pass the laws he supports on immigration and strengthening the infrastructure. I detected a faint whiff of defensiveness when he announced the end of mandated health insurance, with a side-swipe at President Obama, a practice quite uncommon in SOTU addresses.

By now you may have noticed my resentment toward this man’s election to the presidency. But even I have been quite appalled by the total one-sidedness of just about everybody when it comes to Donald Trump. I had anticipated nothing less in the conversation that followed. I wasn’t disappointed.

Even I would say that, on face-value, the speech was all right. According to a CBS poll, 75% people liked the speech. I was mildly pleasantly surprised that the speech was not full of Democrat bashing; Hillary Clinton was not mentioned; and Obama, only once, obliquely. There were even some effort at appealing to bipartisanship in Congress to get things done, be it immigration or spending on  infrastructure. To be sure, Trump's pet projects were there: the “Wall”, Tax Reform and de-regularizing the industry. So were the pet peeves: stopping diversity lottery and chain migration. The latter troubles me because it would prevent Americans from sponsoring their siblings, parents, and adult children. On the other hand, he favors a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as infants and are now of age. I was relieved to see that our often-giddy president is still supporting the permanent settlement of "the dreamers."

And yet, if you read the newspapers (including this column) you will be challenged to find fair, objective pieces on anything the president does. The SOTU was, I think, one of his best attempts at being middle of the road. It does not deserve the unabashed open bias the people and press are showing. My anxiety is about Congress taking up two of the most important Bills, and passing laws on immigration, especially protecting the Dreamers, and the push on infrastructure. As much as I am a Democrat, I don’t care if these laws are passed by a Republican government, as long as they are passed. I wish the Democratic law-makers we sent to Washington would think less about themselves and the Mid-Term elections, and more about the people they represent. It is my conviction that if these laws are passed, it is the Democrats who will benefit more, come election time.

To quote the President himself, let us at least for the time being, put our quarrels aside and ask our elected representatives and senators to pass the two laws “where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”

The author regularly contributes opinion pieces to The South Asian Times.

Update: 08 Feb, 2018