Trump’s State Of The Union Was Really An Attack On Immigrants, Hiding Behind A Veil Of Bipartisanship And Unity

“Americans Are Dreamers Too”

Our impressions of Trump’s Address:

• The President starts out with a very general, very broad appeal for unity, optimism, progress; setting differences aside. Saying his goal as President has always been to “Make America Great Again for ALL AMERICANS”. It’s a clever move, as cameras simultaneously catch glum-faced Democrats reacting as if they don’t want that too.

• But soon enough the President revisits some of his biggest divisive hits, kicked off by the only real big news in the speech: that he’s ordered the Defense Department to keep Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely. There’s more:

  • Condemnation of those who don’t stand and salute the flag
  • Blind support for the 2nd Amendment
  • “Beautiful Clean Coal”

• He also tosses out some “top priorities” that sound pretty good (especially in an election year):

  • Cutting the cost of prescription drugs. (A central campaign promise he’s so far done nothing about).
  • $1.5-trillion of infrastructure investment in coordination with local governments and private companies.
  • Prison reform (which seems to go against everything his Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been advocating, but it’s a big priority for the Koch Brothers).

• Trump throughout introduces American (and one South Korean) heroes, telling their stories. Including the parents of two young girls murdered by the Mexican drug gang known as MS-13. It’s heartbreaking. But the President’s point is larger: some of those gang members entered the country illegally as minors. So by implication, they are exactly whom Democrats are trying to protect.

But if that’s the case, why is the President expanding protection for undocumented immigrants beyond what Democrats asked for? Because it’s “3 times more” than what Obama offered?

And while we didn’t measure it precisely, based on number of words in the transcript of the speech, the President spends about as much time on MS-13 as he does on North Korea.

• Trump then blames recent terrorist attacks in New York on current immigration policy. Here’s a clip where he talks about that (click on the photo below):


• Trump outlines what he calls his “Four Pillar” immigration plan. What are the four pillars?

  • 1st Pillar: A “generous offer” of protection and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, regardless of whether they’re registered for DACA or not.
  • 2nd Pillar: The Wall
  • 3rd Pillar: End Visa Lottery
  • 4th Pillar: End What Trump Calls “Chain Migration”: Limiting sponorships to spouses and minor children

Trump calls his “Four Pillars” a “down-the-middle compromise“.

But really it’s a devil’s bargain: a challenge to Democrats to dare reject an offer to provide a path to citizenship for even more “Dreamers” than they’d ever dreamed of protecting, or give in and accept an utterly draconian immigration policy for years to come.

Fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver has a pretty apt analogy.

And Trump tops it off with a thesis statement of sorts: “Americans are dreamers too“.  That doubles as a broadside against immigrants and Democrats. And it completely fits with his previous (and perhaps future) shutdown strategy of blaming Democrats for caring more about immigrants than American citizens. (Click on photo to play the clip):


The Cato Institute estimates under Trump’s plan, 22-million people who would’ve otherwise immigrated to the United States will be denied entry in the next 50-years. And that since “labor force growth is one of the most important growth factors”, Trump’s policies “will unnecessarily deny opportunity to many people and have far-reaching negative consequences for economic growth in the United States.”

And the Cato Institute is not a bunch of Liberal bleeding hearts, they are about as Right as Right can be. (Founded by one of the Koch brothers. Surprise!)  They support free markets, so they’re not really arguing for a looser immigration policy because they care about people, they want a cheap and steady supply of labor. That may sound bad, but as we’ve said before, that’s capitalism, and that’s why America’s always let immigrants in.

And we believe not to do so, for whatever reason, is un-American.



What Trump Didn’t Mention

1) Deficits: While Trump touted recent tax cuts, which were extraordinarily front-loaded to have as much visible benefit to people as possible this year, he failed to mention the massive budget deficits those cuts will create. Or the cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is already saying will be necessary to make up for the deficits he played a major role in creating. But while Ryan’s licking his chops, it’s not good election-year politics, so Trump wisely let that one roll over.

2) Killing Obamacare: While Trump took credit in the speech for eviscerating “the disastrous core of Obamacare” (he was referring to the tax bill’s end to penalties on people who didn’t buy health insurance), the President made no mention of further efforts to do away with Obamacare once-and-for all, which he once stated was a major priority of his for this year.



Additional Reading…

A really good, comprehensive, even-handed account and assessment from Roll Call’s John Bennett.

David Graham in the Atlantic discussing Trump’s utter failure to address any of the tumult of his first year in office. (The closest we found was Trump’s vague reference to “challenges…we could never have imagined”, close to the top of the speech).

At the same time, the speech was uncharacteristically low on over-the-top boasts. Here’s the full text and video, if you’re a real masochist.