WASHINGTON — If the last divisive year had not happened, then President Donald Trump’s calls during his State of the Union address on Tuesday to work as “one team” together on a “righteous mission” to improve the U.S. would have impact in the coming days.
But the words from Trump’s more than hourlong State of the Union will have less influence than one of his Tweets.
Here’s my bottom-line analysis of Trump’s first official speech before a joint session of Congress: It won’t change much of anything.
The trajectory seems to be set as we head towards mid-term elections this November.
The speech did not bridge divides, as if an hour of talk could. Things aren’t that easy in the best of times. The chaotic Trump presidency and his lack of caring about facts have left their dents in our system. He did not, for the record, talk about the Russia probe and Robert Mueller.
Trump in his speech — as he has in the first year of his term — continued with his habit of grabbing all the credit and none of the blame for the state of our collective civic life in the United States.
Trump insisted on repeating claims that have been disputed by fact checkers. Just one example: He took credit for Chrysler moving a plant from Mexico to Michigan but Fiat Chrysler has said that was in the works before Trump was elected.
He took credit for ending a war on “clean coal” that no one ever declared, even though former President Barack Obama got a lot of blame on that front.
I grant you that Trump put out some ideas that we can talk about: Do “wonderful incredible Americans” who are terminally ill have a “Right to Try” experimental drugs and not go “from country to country to seek a cure.”
It’s time for Congress to let us be able to experiment, Trump said.
Trump’s big items on his congressional agenda, already well signaled, includes dealing with immigration and infrastructure investment.
Immigration is the hottest issue on his plate, and nothing Trump said in his speech will make it easier for Democrats and Republicans in the weeks ahead to find a way to save the “Dreamers,” who face a Trump imposed March deadline when their legal protections to stay in the U.S. expire.
There was nothing new to make it easier to come to a deal. And making deals is what Trump was elected to do.
Indeed, Trump, when it came to discussing “Dreamers” — a very specific term coined to describe youths in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own — sought to redefine the use of that term.
For what reason? Trump talked about how “Americans are Dreamers too” in a passage talking about immigrants and gang violence.
Trump did not dwell on how his wall on the southern border would be paid for — a good decision since it seems that it is the U.S. taxpayer, not Mexico, as he promised during the campaign — who will be paying that tab.
But by conflating policy issues presented by the visa lottery and chain migration with the matter of dealing with the Dreamers seems to make the solutions no closer on Wednesday than there were the day before.
Trump had the benefit of lowered expectations. He mostly read from his prepared text and did not riff off on his own.
What is a central issue when it comes to Trump — is his view that the “American Way” is his way — that “we proudly stand for the national anthem,” his dig at the NFL players who have taken a knee to protest not the flag nor the anthem.
One last matter: There is a potential of compromise on infrastructure spending. Trump called on Congress to generate $1.5 trillion for new infrastructure investment — “where appropriate tapping into private sector investment.”
Private investment. That’s the catch. I asked Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., about that proposal earlier on Tuesday. “I think it could probably be part of the total package, but probably not more than 20 percent at most,” she said. … If you go Downstate Illinois (with) county roads that end in two farmhouses. You can’t exactly toll that road.”