Ringing in his first full year in the oval office, President Donald Trump traveled to the halls of Congress Tuesday night to deliver his first State of the Union speech. The hour and twenty minute speech was chock-full of the rantings and ravings of a president losing control of his government, complete with pleas for bipartisan support, empty proclamations of the greatness of America and blatant overstatements of the successes of the administration thus far.
Concluding the evening in typical Trump fashion, the president claimed that his State of the Union speech was the most watched in the history of the tradition. Much like his similar false claim that his inaugural address far surpassed the audience of previous addresses, the audience for Trump’s first State of the Union dipped far below those of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, just to name a few. Unfortunately, the capstone lie of the night was just one of many “alternative facts” sprinkled throughout Trump’s address.
Trump spent a good portion of the speech bragging about the economic successes allegedly attributable solely to his administration. More than 2 million jobs have been created over the past year, 200,000 in manufacturing alone, African-American unemployment is at its lowest rate ever recorded and wage stagnation is no more as Americans are finally seeing their salaries increase. Taken at surface value, these three accomplishments paint a picture of a booming American economy, better than it’s been in years. Or, as Trump would like to say, it’s a picture of America that’s becoming great again.
But context is imperative when assessing economic growth and trends, and context is not something the Trump administration seems to have a handle on when presenting their version of the “facts.” There have been 2.4 million jobs added to the economy since Trump became president, which equals about 169,000 new jobs per month. This falls almost 20,000 new jobs per month short of the 185,000 additional jobs per month under Obama. African-American unemployment is at its lowest rate ever recorded, at 6.8 percent, but here is an instance where long-term trends are much more influential than any policy changes or rhetoric promulgated by the Trump administration. It is almost laughable that Trump believes he can take credit for a trend that has been steadily appearing since 2011 after just one year in office. Finally, American wages are growing slower now than they were throughout a large portion of Obama’s presidency, making Trump’s last economic claim completely false.
After molding the economic successes of his predecessor to feed his ego and acquiesce an ever-fractioning republican party and base, Trump turned to one of his core issues: immigration. Following the two-day government shutdown that resulted at least in part due to an inability to come to a bipartisan agreement on the controversial Obama-era DACA program, Trump, like a one-trick pony, returned to the construction of his infamous border wall. Any claim that a border wall is a sure-fire way to reduce illegal immigration is false, as Homeland Security has found that, while a wall would slow the influx of illegal immigrants, it could not fully stop it, nor could it stop the trafficking of drugs or other items across the border. Additionally, 70 percent of border crossings take place where fencing or other barriers already exist.
As if the wall wasn’t enough fabricated and misleading immigration talk for one night, Trump turned his attention to the lottery system and the supposed power of immigrants to use it to their advantage. Trump alleged the visa lottery system “randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people” and that a single immigrant can “bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” to America, muddling his administration’s vision of an America where the white person is allowed free, unthreatened rule.
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The visa lottery system provides 50,000 immigrant visas to people wishing to come to the country, but the 18 page handbook guiding the program requires a high school education, lack of a criminal record and a lengthy background check that could extend for months, among other things. For those who do obtain a green card and wish to petition for their relatives to gain entry to the country, the background checks and immigration processes start over for the relative in question. Even if the relative were to pass the background checks, the federal government places caps on the number of people one person can sponsor for immigration, leaving more than 3.9 million people waiting for legal documentation to allow them into America.
Trump’s attacks on the immigration process and on immigrants themselves have been plentiful and painful this past year, leaving immigrants feeling unsure of their future and afraid to express their cultures, speak their languages or speak up for their rights as citizens of this country. The state of the union for immigrants is one of fear, uncertainty and distrust. Trump’s decision to again attack this group in his first address to Congress reflects his inherently racist agenda and highlights the bigotry of the entire Republican party in 2018.
The state of the American union a year into a Trump presidency isn’t nearly as pretty a picture as Trump frantically painted Tuesday night. We are a country divided, a people pitted against one another for reasons unjustifiable and ethically wrong. It is time to turn a critical eye inward and ask ourselves if the state of our nation is one we are proud of. Hopefully, the answer is a resounding no.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.