Submitted by Michael Every of Rabobank
President Trump’s SOTU address -which as I write and type - began with talk of unity and bipartisanship; applauded WW2 vets and an astronaut; announced Mugatu-style how hot the US economy is right now; underlined the cutting of taxes and regulation (and Obamacare); talked up the US energy economy; got chants of “USA! USA!” as if this were the Olympics; said the only things that can blow the US economy off course are “foolish foreign wars” and investigations into the presidency – “we must be united at home to defeat our opponents abroad”; went back to bipartisanship again via veterans and criminal justice reform; then got to the “urgent national crisis” of the “dangerous southern border”; announced another 3,750 troops have been sent to said border to prepare for the “moral issue” of an illegal immigration “onslaught”; stressed he wanted immigrants to come “in the largest numbers ever - but they have to come legally”, while a “wealthy political class” pushes for illegal immigration while living behind walls and guards as working class Americans pay the price of reduced jobs and lower wages, and crime. So no backing down on the Wall then: Trump is still deadly serious on this issue. Does he go the emergency route to get that “strategic, see-through steel barrier”?
Then we were on to the economy – “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” and in Congress (prompting the Democrat women all wearing white to stand and applauded, defying the party discipline of sitting for everything, followed by more cries of “USA! USA!”); then it’s China, where a US-China trade deal must include real structural changes to “protect American jobs”; underlining how great USMCA is compared to NAFTA; and Trump then says “The four beautiful words: Made in the USA” – and once again the Democrat women in white stand up. He asks for new legislation to allow the US to impose reciprocal tariffs on any country that imposes them on the US; next it is infrastructure, and again the Democrats stand and clap; investment in cutting-edge industries is a necessity; and so is lowering the cost of prescription drugs and protecting patients with pre-existing conditions; (More united applause.)
Trump also wants to eliminate HIV in the US within 10 years and to fight childhood cancer; and paid family leave. (More united applause and a female voice cries “Yes!”); then red meat for the Right with proposals to ban late-term abortion; then the need to protect America - USD716bn on defence, and other nations paying USD100bn more; the US is also withdrawing from the INF treaty due to Russian intransigence - perhaps the US can sign a new agreement with Russia and China, but “If not, the US will out-spend and out innovate all others by far”; and on North Korea, without Trump ‘there would have been a war by now’; the US stands with the Venezuelan people; and Trump is alarmed by calls for Socialism in the US - “America will never be a socialist country,” and Nancy Pelosi claps too - “USA! USA!, etc.”. And on the Middle East, “Great nations do not fight endless wars” - retreat from Syrian and Afghanistan looms, but Iran will be squeezed harder; lastly, Trump will fight strongly against anti-Semitism, and two Holocaust survivors are presented.
In short, it was a barn-storming performance that showed Trump aiming for the middle-ground – but the populist middle ground appealing to his base and to many left-wing Democrats (except the No Socialism and the Wall parts) even as the messaging clearly tried to rebuke any ties to more extreme far-right elements. Interesting times.