On Tuesday, January 29, President Donald Trump addressed the country in his first State of the Union speech since he was inaugurated just over a year ago.
President Trump focused on the Republican tax cuts, which, he said, “provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.” According to NPR News, however, most of the benefits of these tax cuts actually go to the richest 20 percent of Americans, while the poorest 60 percent of Americans will instead see tax increases. In contrast, businesses have nearly all seen a reduction in taxes. Trump claimed that the tax “changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000,” although it seems unlikely to be such a high increase in reality.
Trump also stated that American pride in our veterans is one of the reasons “why we proudly stand for the national anthem,” making a not-so-subtle dig at the recent practice of football players kneeling for the national anthem before games, following the example of Colin Kaepernick, who first began to kneel two seasons in silent protest of police brutality.
Trump then asked “Congress to empower every cabinet secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust, or fail the American people.” It is rather unclear exactly what he meant by this. His intention could be interpreted to mean anything from empowering cabinet members to have greater jurisdiction over all federal employees in their department to potentially giving those same cabinet members the ability to fire employees who are deemed not patriotic enough. Either way, this does not seem to be a power that Congress would, or even could, grant to Trump’s cabinet.
The president also said that the United States needs to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal.” The U.S. military already possesses one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world, second only to Russia.
Trump’s professed plan regarding immigration is also rather harsh. According to him, “open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities,” but in reality, the fewest undocumented Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. last year than any other year in the last four decades. He claimed that these people — who are statistically no more likely to commit crime than American citizens, according to a study from the Cato Institute — have “tragically … caused the loss of many innocent lives.” While gang violence is an issue in many places, a study in Criminology found that as immigrant populations increase in an area, the occurrence of violent crime tends to decrease, contrary to what Trump implied.
Trump went into great detail about his four-pillared immigration reform plan. He said that he does intend to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) act, and he implied that he would allow Dreamers to have a path to citizenship (which DACA does not allow). More consistently with his generally hardline policy on immigration, the second “pillar” of his plan is the wall bordering the U.S. and Mexico, the third ends the diversity visa lottery system, and the fourth would make it even more difficult for citizen immigrants to be joined in the U.S. by their family members.
The next day, Democratic Senator Joe Kennedy delivered a speech in response to Trump’s State of the Union. He called the Trump administration “an administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away” because of his statements regarding immigration, and he accused Trump of pitting disadvantaged communities against one another. Kennedy called for unity among all Americans, although with the political divide of our country today, it seems unlikely that his message of unity will spread as far as he intended.