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Monday, February 6: President Trump’s immigration ban

Henry Feldman writes about bipartisanship and Trump's tone in the SOTU

President Trump’s first State of the Union has been described by many as a hardline conservative speech. He celebrated the GOP’s recent tax cuts, emphasized the need to secure our borders, reaffirmed his “iron-clad pledge” to put America first, and expressed interest in “[lifting citizens from welfare to work.”


However, it might come as a surprise to the President that his speech was seen as deeply divisive, considering his bipartisan intentions. He said before the SOTU that he “[wants] to see the country united,” and he started his speech by asking Congress to “set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.” This call for bipartisan cooperation felt out of place and didn’t match the overall tone of his speech, but Democrats should welcome any opportunity to work with GOP lawmakers on a core set of issues that Americans agree on. Let me give a few examples.


According to a recent poll conducted by The Hill, 79% of Americans support increased spending on infrastructure. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have paid a lot of lip service to repairing our “crumbling” bridges, roads, buildings, and trains, but they’ve yet to take action. The first year of any Presidential administration is always the most conducive to pursuing partisan aims, and the Republicans used this time to focus on healthcare and tax reform. Now that this window is over, though, lawmakers should look for opportunities to bring infrastructure to the table.


Republicans and Democrats also agree that job training will be important moving forward to resist the debilitating impact of automation on the middle class. According to a Pew poll conducted in 2016, 68% more Americans have jobs that “require an average or above average level of preparation (including education, experience and job training)” than they did in 1980. Furthermore, “54% of adults in the labor force say it will be essential for them to get training and develop new skills throughout their work life in order to keep up with the changes in the workplace. An additional one-third say it would be important but not essential.” Clearly, Democrats and Republicans should take the President up on his offer to invest in job training; it’s highly practical and politically expedient.


There are so many other areas where lawmakers can set their partisan quarrels aside and get back to work on issues that matter. Resistance is important, and a lot of Democrats’ energy will inevitably go towards stopping the President from enacting his agenda, but it’s time to recognize that Trump isn’t going to fundamentally change his policy positions throughout the remainder of his term. He isn’t going to have a progressive awakening, and get out of bed one day fighting for immigrant families, environmental protection, or victims of sexual assault. He’s not going to support raising the minimum wage, or start working towards a single-payer healthcare system. It’s time to accept this reality, buckle up for the midterm elections, but most importantly—to highlight areas of agreement between the parties and craft legislation to address such issues.

Aditya Sharma writes about the difference in tone between Trump's Inaugural Address and SOTU

If President Donald Trump speaks for the people who elected him, then the speech he gave at his inauguration one year ago could be a collective outpouring of the resentment and frustration of the millions of Americans who had unexpectedly brought him to power. In contrast, the State of the Union address, which he delivered on 30 January, acted as an expression of triumph, a defiant and primal show of strength that emanated from the heartland of middle America and was directed pointedly at the people who, many of his voters felt, looked down on them.  At his inauguration, Mr. Trump painted a vivid picture of this out-of-touch ‘establishment’ in their Washington, DC bubble, governing a country in chaos. ‘Their victories have not been your victories,’ he told the crowd.


He criticized the profligate spending of preceding administrations, saying that American governments had spent trillions overseas on bolstering foreign countries’ defenses while neglecting their own, stood by while manufacturing jobs went to the Far East, and allowed middle-class wealth to be sucked out of the country. All this, Mr. Trump concluded, meant that America’s confidence and strength had ‘disappeared over the horizon’. In a message that has been a recurring soundbite throughout his campaign and presidency, he promised that from that moment forward, it would be ‘America first’.


Mr. Trump doubtless saw Wednesday’s address to both Houses of Congress, a long-standing tradition in American politics, as an opportunity to present proof of his success – and success is definitively what he believes has achieved in his first year. He declared from the outset that ‘the state of our union is strong’, pointing to the tax cuts he signed into law, effective campaigns against the Islamic State and the opioid problem, and the creation of 2.4m jobs, although critics point out that much of the economic boon that America is enjoying can be attributed to the administration of Barack Obama. Mr. Trump also celebrated the end of the war on ‘beautiful, clean coal’ – an oxymoron for the ages, no doubt. He has long held a consistent line on coal – namely, that it should be supported by all means necessary. He won Wyoming, which produces the most American coal by far, with over 68% of the vote, and as a whole, eight out of America’s top-ten coal producing states. In a call for bipartisanship, a rare element indeed on the House floor, he asked Congress to ‘set aside our differences’ and ‘summon the unity we need’.


Despite its triumphant tone, the speech did retain elements of the threat perception, the idea that America faces multiple dangers from foreign powers, that have marked the administration’s rhetoric and policies. Mr. Trump announced that he was keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention camp open to audible cheers. He also demanded increases in military spending from the current budget of over $824bn, and lambasted the North Korean regime for its vast and systematic human-rights abuses and the global danger it poses. The speech, then, could be characterized has having struck a balance between a celebratory address and a reminder of the ever-present dangers Mr. Trump campaigned on a promise of fighting against.


In an interview last month, France’s president Emmanuel Macron wryly stated that Mr. Trump was ‘not a classical politician’. In doing so, he expressed the prevailing sentiment that exists here in France, where America’s president is viewed with bemusement and, in many quarters, disdain.  The mostly liberal-leaning media mostly followed precedent in its reporting of the address. The center-right daily Le Figaro noted that ‘for the least conventional of presidents, the most ritualistic exercise of American politics represents a personal challenge’, and compared Trump’s America to the two-faced Roman god Janus, simultaneously practicing ‘provocation and reform’. The more left-leaning Le Monde pointed out the paradoxical nature of the speech: ‘for over an hour, [Mr. Trump] praised his Republican agenda and the results of a year marked by deep divisions, while reaching out to the opposition’.


Mr. Trump did not stray too far from standard Republican doctrine in Wednesday’s speech; that in itself marks a departure from the strongly protectionist tone of his inaugural speech. The administration will surely have learned lessons from its first year in office. Judging by the State of the Union address, the president clearly believes he has done a good job. Only the midterm elections, due in November, will prove whether the people he governs feel the same.

Denver Blevins writes about Trump's mention of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens

During his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Trump invited the parents of two teenage girls—Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens—who were murdered by members of the gang MS-13. Trump then linked the violence caused by this gang with the illegal immigration of minors into the United States, claiming the lack of stricter border laws resulted in this tragedy. Rather than genuinely inviting the families of these victims to the speech as a gesture of compassion, Trump more seemingly invited them to shape their tragedy into an emotional appeal that would turn his audience in favor of his stance on border patrol.

Many Democrats have reacted negatively toward Trump’s inclusion of Cuevas and Mickens’ murders, arguing that it inappropriately reinforces negative stereotypes and associates gang violence with immigrants. Trump made no motion toward recognizing that some illegal immigrants have contributed beneficial work to American society, leaving his audience with a sole picture of illegal immigrants as violent criminals. It is this image that Trump then used to back his call for new legislation regarding the ICE and border laws, including full security of the border.

New legislation, he argued, is necessary “to defend Americans…and their right to the American Dream, because Americans are dreamers too.” With this statement, Trump clearly alluded to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), whose recipients are called Dreamers. DACA is the primary cause of the government shutdown that occurred earlier in 2018, and though Trump did not directly address DACA in the State of the Union, his insistence that Americans are not just “dreamers,” but “dreamers too,” certainly referenced DACA and reinforced his stance against the program that has so divisively split Congress in the past few weeks.

Now with the current resolution to the previous government shutdown about to expire on Thursday, Trump’s divisive remark is all the more threatening to the possibility of bipartisanship in reaching a decision about the future of the Dreamers remaining in this country. With both parties tightly tied to their positions, it is unclear how this issue will be resolved, and until it is, the series of short-term spending bills that are currently keeping the government in operation will seemingly have to continue.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed his belief that Democrats will not be willing to endure another government shutdown. However, with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) now secured for the next six years with the past spending bill, Democrats may have more leverage in resisting settling for a bill that fails to reinstate DACA or a similar program. Until Thursday, it is unclear what move the Democrats will take in response to Trump’s ever-threatening positions on the border and Dreamers that he resoundingly reinforced with his address on Tuesday.

Emilie Biggs writes about Trump's use of the idea of American heritage

Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address: a movement toward unity. Specifically, a unity drawn from a shared heritage. When he called us “America’s children”, when he told us about our forefathers who dreamt they “could light up the world”, when he spoke of us as “a people whose heroes live not only in the past, but all around us”, President Trump seemed to be trying to bridge past and present, using our own shared history as a vehicle to bring us together. ‘American’, as a group identity, was given a foundation in history. Our president, at least on January 30th, seemed one concerned with what we, as Americans, have inherited.


Trump isn’t the first person to pick up on this idea of heritage. There seems to be, underlying the mess of an identity crisis we find ourselves in now, a general anxiety over our history. Look at the success of Broadway show Hamilton, look at the fight to the death over removing statues: we want to know that we have a history, and that it is still accessible to us in the modern day. We are trying to find the American heritage.


But what is this ‘American heritage’? And who has claim to it? It seems to me that American history has such a range of narratives that one ultimately has to choose one arbitrarily. Take the legacy of Hamilton: according to a wildly popular musical, it’s a story of immigrants standing at the origins of our country. A different source might place more emphasis on the fact that many of the men celebrated were slave-owners. Which story do we want to inherit? When we are faced with both an America built on stolen land off the backs of slaves, and an America made up of immigrants coming to a new land and creating a new space for themselves, how do we reconcile our own history? Which heritage do we choose?


America seems to be unsure of where it comes from, and for good reason. A large part of coming to terms with American history is coming to terms with the fact that the American identity is something a lot of people had to fight to possess – that Americans today are part of an America that denied their ancestors humanity. Is this what Trump sees as having birthed us ‘America’s children’?


Watching the room of (yes) mostly white and male politicians laugh, clap, and even chant, “USA! USA!” as Trump celebrates his inhumane immigration plans, I know what history they’re aligning themselves with. They have chosen the legacy of hatred and abuse. But America is wide, and abundant in nuances. There are other legacies for us, too.  

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