By John J. Metzler
NEW YORK — In a stunningly positive speech before Congress, President Donald Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address to a deeply divided nation. While the president outlined a long upbeat list of economic achievements and trade deals, amounting to what was called a “Blue Collar Boom,” Donald Trump added, “In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline, and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny.”
Later in a tawdry and theatrical touch, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Trump’s Democrat rival, defiantly tore up her copy of the speech. Pelosi’s pique was planned to grab headlines from the address and to fuel the bitter partisan divide. She did not succeed. Veteran New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin opined, “Pelosi shamed herself at Trump’s State of the Union Address.”
Now just imagine if Republican Speaker Paul Ryan had reacted this way to an Obama speech?
Nonetheless, faithfully following the turgid script of the long running impeachment soap opera, the State of the Union memorably came in the closing hours before Donald Trump’s Senate trial acquittal. George Washington University Constitutional law scholar Prof. Jonathan Turley called this impeachment process “a historic blunder.”
Melodramatic tones of the State of the Union aside, the speech set a measured but triumphant stage set for applause breaks. President Trump recited his positive mantra of 7 million new jobs creating the lowest unemployment rates in half a century. Happily, African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American unemployment rates have reached the lowest levels in history.
Importantly, many of the jobs are in manufacturing, where over a half million positions have been created. Indeed a rising tide lifts all boats.
Often overlooked in the robust recovery has been the reality of America’s energy independence.
Being the #1 producer of oil and gas in the world affords the U.S. an indisputable advantage.
He presented a list of renegotiated free but fair trade agreements such as the USMCA, an updated NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. The deal has strong backing of U.S. labor unions. Now before anyone shrugs this off, think of the U.S. economy a decade ago!
Significantly, the president supported the Freedom agenda in our hemisphere from Cuba to Nicaragua and Venezuela. In an amazing American gesture of support, embattled Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó was in the Capitol audience!
President Trump extolled, “The United States is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes his people. … Here this evening is a man who carries with him the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all Venezuelans… Juan Guaidó. Mr. President, please take this message back to your homeland. All Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom!” America’s focus on this Hemispheric crisis remains crucial to its resolution.
Trump underscored, “Socialism destroys nations. But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.” So very true.
Alluding to the once divisive defense spending disputes within NATO, the president added without mentioning any specific countries, “We are also finally getting our allies to help pay their fair share. I have raised contributions from the other NATO members by more than $400 billion, and the number of allies meeting their minimum obligations has more than doubled.”
On terrorism, “Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed, and the founder and leader of ISIS, the bloodthirsty killer Al‑Baghdadi, is dead!”
Interestingly, Trump offered an olive branch to Iran. “In recent months, we have seen proud Iranians raise their voices against their oppressive rulers. The Iranian regime must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, stop spreading terror, death, and destruction, and start working for the good of its own people. ”
But he stressed, “Because of our powerful sanctions, the Iranian economy is doing very poorly. We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help. We are here. Let’s see which road they choose. It’s totally up to them.”
Significantly, there was no mention of nuclear armed North Korea nor the immensely important American ties including the Mutual Security Treaty with our ally and partner South Korea.
Typically, State of the Unions addresses are focused on the domestic audience, and this year, a political campaign cycle at that. This after all remains the Washington way.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]