On Tuesday, in Donald Trump’s first congressional address, he urged cooperation and unity in a speech bound to satisfy many Republicans. Some have even described the address as “Reaganesque.”
Mike Pence praised the speech, saying, “What the American people saw last night is the president that I serve with every day […] Broad shoulders, big heart, reaching out, focusing on the future.”
His comments echo the sentiments of other Republicans who were reassured after Tuesday’s address. Trump avoided some of his usual damaging public speaking habits. This served him well. He also delivered a highly polished, albeit vague, message which has produced a mixed reaction.
Newt Gingrich said afterward that, “It would have been very ineffective had you been involved in some kind of long, detailed step-by-step laundry list […] I would have been appalled if he’d stood there with some laundry list that nobody in America understood and talked on and on. I think he will go out there and give speeches to explain all of this.”
With respect to television ratings for a first address to Congress like this one, Trump’s statements did relatively well, managing approximately 47.7 million viewers. This number is higher than that of President George W. Bush in 2001 (39.8m), but is lower than those of Bill Clinton in 1993 (66.9m) and Barack Obama in 2009 (52m).
President Trump promised a significant increase in military spending. The president also reiterated his chosen approach to immigration reform, revisiting the border wall as a key element that will both aid in job creation and help to fight the drug war. Furthermore, he promised tax relief for middle class Americans, a campaign against crime, more jobs for coal miners, an end to American participation in unfair trade agreements, and asked congress for an enormous infrastructure plan that would cost just under $1 trillion.
Absent from his speech was any meaningful discussion of the new administration’s approach to environmental policy. Despite this he stated his desire for the American people to have clean air and clean water. Additionally, Trump did not mention Medicare or Social Security.
Democrats have criticized the speech as empty and nonsensical. Bernie Sanders recorded a highly critical statement that was then released on social media.
He said, in part, “Tonight, President Trump once again made it clear he plans on working with Republicans in Congress who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, throw 20 million Americans off of health insurance, privatize Medicare, make massive cuts in Medicaid, raise the cost of prescription drugs to seniors, eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, while at the same time, he wants to give another massive tax break to the wealthiest Americans […]”
Trump’s address to Congress presents an image of competency, efficiency, growth, and stability. Underneath the surface hides a messy transition into office fraught with confusion, misunderstanding, and scandal. One could also add to this list myriad, blunt administrative efforts at radical change that actually threaten severe destabilization and harm.
Several of his statements were misleading. One of the most important of these was Trump’s point about unemployment and labor force participation. He stated that there are 94 million Americans out of the labor force. This statistic, referring to overall labor force participation, is true.
Astoundingly, however, what Trump neglected to mention is that nearly half (approximately 41 million persons) of this group is retired. The employment numbers, which come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, refer to, “civilian noninstitutional population 16 years of age and older.”
It is also important to note that as Baby Boomers retire over the next 20 years this number is likely to increase dramatically. To quote Newt Gingrich, I am, actually and not theoretically, appalled at this blatant attempt at misinformation.
Trump’s discussion of declining American jobs is important as well. It fundamentally illustrates his overall approach to regulation.
The actual reason for the decline in coal jobs is mixed and is certainly not government regulation alone, as Trump implied. Much of this decline comes from the changing nature of modern energy markets. The new administration has an obsession with eliminating regulations in the name of job creation, many of which are in place as environmental protections.
Trump has repeatedly over-emphasized the role that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) played in the decline of American manufacturing jobs. He also tends to leave out the role that changes in manufacturing technologies have played in this decline.
He erroneously argued that the Affordable Care Act is “collapsing.” This is not the case, and it comes off like rhetorical gibberish from the campaign trail. It is, in fact, another exaggeration, despite the current problems that remain to be solved. The law is certainly not collapsing, although Trump and other Republicans could certainly cause it to collapse.
Since its inception, the act has dramatically improved access to care and insurance for millions of Americans. Overall, health insurance premiums have also generally risen over time for most Americans at rates lower than before the law came into effect .
It is still not completely clear how Trump intends to “drain the swamp.” From the looks of things, the swamp water has simply been changed out for a name brand synthetic fluid. On the bright side, however, there’s no longer any water.