Still partisan

Trump was restrained in his State of the Union address, but did nothing to bridge the divide In his second State of the Union address, President Donald Trump demonstrated the capacity to step back from his polemical debating style on social media without yielding ground to his detractors on matters of domestic policy at the top of his agenda. These include immigration, jobs for Americans, and conservative values including the pro-life movement. First, Mr. Trump used the opportunity to speak before a joint session of Congress to reiterate his desire to build a wall along the Mexican border, even as he clarified this could include the use of steel slats. The worrisome thought on the minds of at least 800,000 government workers, who were furloughed without pay for 35 days during the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, must have been whether Mr. Trump will again insist that Congress allocate $5.7 billion to build the wall, and precipitate another shutdown. Second, he underscored that his core agenda on job creation for Americans was proceeding apace, noting that his administration had “created 5.3 million new jobs and importantly added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs” — a claim subsequently noted to be an exaggeration. Third, the anti-abortion movement got a boost from the two whole paragraphs in the speech calling on Congress to pass legislation to prohibit late-term abortion. On foreign policy too, Mr. Trump appeared to hold firm to the ideas and strategies his administration has espoused through his term in office, including attacking the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, for “socialist policies have turned that nation… into a state of abject poverty and despair”; and the government of Iran as a “radical regime” that does “bad, bad things”, justifying the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Tehran. It may have come as a pleasant surprise, or relief, to some that Mr. Trump’s address did not take on the darkly foreboding undertones of his inaugural speech. But his plea for both major parties to “embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good” sounded hollow, given the ground realities of his administration’s policy effects. In her response to the address, Democrat and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams decried the harsh economic pinch of the government shutdown, countering Mr. Trump’s claims of working for the interest of the middle-class American. She highlighted the omission of the gun control debate in the speech, the silence over voter suppression, rising higher education fees, and so on. Unless Mr. Trump genuinely reaches across the political divide to connect meaningfully with over 65 million voters who opposed him in the 2016 election, partisan rancour will remain in the political system and threaten its foundations.

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