Republicans in Donald Trump’s corner — and there are a lot of them — were fed plenty of red meat during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
Mixing the standard rhetoric of American greatness and hope alongside his policy goals, Trump called upon the Congress to work with him to build a wall, keep the prison camp at Guantanamo open, modernize America’s weaponry, combat rouge regimes and terrorists, and improve the country’s roads, highways and bridges.
Viewers who were only sporadically paying attention to their televisions might have thought that Republicans inside the House chamber had no seats: Well over two-dozen standing ovations were given to the president by those Republicans. The president, himself, often joined in and clapped.
Meanwhile, Democrats sat stone faced, vigorously applauding only when the president spoke of a private citizen who was a special guest at the address and who had done something special. The 12-year-old California boy working to get flags on the graves of deceased veterans was especially well received.
Grumbles of protest from the Democrats were audible when Trump turned his attention to illegal immigrants. As he spoke of them using terms such as “criminals,” the disdain Democrats feel about Trump was apparent.
A few moments especially drew my attention:
- The president called for keeping Guantanamo open. While Democrats are sure to pounce on this idea as another example of Trump’s militaristic posture, all of us need to remember that Barack Obama promised to close that facility. And never did.
- The New York parents who lost their children to gun violence and the parents of Otto Gambier, who was horribly treated by the North Korean regime before being released so that he wouldn’t die on that soil, reminded me that no parent should ever have to bury their child. The tears flowing from one of the fathers from New York and Mrs. Gambier were brutal reminders that no matter what our political preferences are, we must embrace our shared humanity.
- The president stated that his immigration plan would allow 1.8 million people who came to think country illegally (and as children) to become citizens over a 12-year period. Why must it take that long to complete that process? And what restrictions will be put on those people in the interim as their cases make their way through the inevitable bureaucratic maze?
- The president has an opportunity to score political points with this phrase he uttered: “American hearts, American hands, American grit.” Especially to his base, that concept of being resolute in getting the job done will resonate.
The political needle did not move on Tuesday night. Trump offered no indication that he cares about compromise or the political interests of the Democratic Party. He said nothing that hinted at bipartisanship. He spoke only of his hard-right vision for the country.