President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a (very) lengthy speech in which he largely revisited his accomplishments over his first year in office and offered a handful of proposals he’d like to see considered in the coming year.
While it’s important not to over-analyze what the speech means for Trump’s presidency – his first year in office suggests what he says one day means very little for what he will do the next – I did jot down a few takeaways from the address. They’re below.
1. America First
Trump ran – and won – on the idea that he would always put our country first. And boy did he make good on that promise in his State of the Union address. For the first hour of the speech, Trump talked about nothing but domestic policy. Tax cuts. The economy. Trade. Regulatory reform. Immigration. Nary a mention of America’s place in the world until after 10 pm on the east coast.
The signal was clear: Trump is not just using “America First” as a piece of rhetoric; he’s heavily focused on making it a policy reality as well.
2. Bipartisanship just ain’t happening
In the early moments of Trump’s speech, he made several calls for the country and the Congress to come together.
“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve,” Trump said at one point.
“If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything,” he said at another.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to Trump’s mention of the need to come together for the good of the American people tells you everything you need to know about the chances of that actually happening.
3. A greatest hits album
Most state of the union addresses are roughly evenly split between a touting of past accomplishments and the laying out of a vision for future governance.
Trump’s speech was 80% celebration of what he has done and 20% talking about what he would like to do. (In truth, the percentage might have tilted even more in the direction of Trump’s recitation of his greatest hits.)
It was almost an hour into his remarks that Trump first mentioned a proposal – a massive infrastructure bill – that he wanted Congress to take up. Trump did pick up some steam on the proposal front – pushing Congress to take up his immigration compromise, for one.
But, proposals and wish lists weren’t top-of-mind for Trump in this speech. Making sure he mentioned all of the things he believes he has succeeded in (and the media has overlooked) was.
4. Trump as the Obama eraser
Much of Trump’s pitch as a candidate was as the anti-Barack Obama. And, Republicans – who, in Obama, saw everything they disliked about big government liberals – ate it up.
Trump's first State of the Union address
Trump has spent his first year governing as the anti-Obama as well. Or, more accurately, the Obama eraser.
He jettisoned DACA. He pushed for the repeal of the individual mandate. He has stripped out regulation after regulation put into place by Obama. And on Tuesday night, Trump announced his plans to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba open – a direct rebuttal to Obama’s long-made and long-failed pledge to close the prison.
Remember that prior to running for president and even during his bid, Trump lacked any clearly thought-out set of policy prescriptions. In lieu of that, he reacted – or, in Trump’s lingo – counter-punched against what Obama had done as president. He just kept doing it on Tuesday night.
5. The great unmentioned
Nowhere in Trump’s speech did he address – even obliquely – the special counsel investigation into Russia’s attempted meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with members of his campaign.
In fact Trump uttered the word “Russia” only once. “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values,” he said.
It’s not terribly surprising that Trump – in a speech ostensibly about unity and bipartisanship – wouldn’t mention an investigation that is tearing at the heart and soul of political Washington.
Still, it was an absence worth noting – particularly given that Trump spoke for 80 minutes and tackled virtually every other subject under the sun.
6. Stagecraft was top notch
Perhaps not surprising for someone who has lived his life in the spotlight and who built a life on image and brand, the stagecraft of Trump’s first State of the Union was outstanding. From the families who lost loved ones to the MS-13 gang to Otto Warmbier’s parents to the North Korean defector and his crutches, the visuals – and the stories they told – were haunting and memorable.