President Donald Trump’s second State of the Union address made it clear that beginnings can be inspiring and endings do matter, but only if the middle moves the nation forward.
Trump delivered glimmers of a promising policy agenda and recounted inspiring details of the bipartisan work Congress accomplished in 2018. The middle, however, imparted gratuitous bombast and questionable statistics — two things that muddy even the best-written speeches. The road ahead for America will be defined by how well the country executes the hard work in the middle.
Trump began his speech strong with an anticipated call for unity, promising that “there is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it.”
For a president generally disinclined to extend the olive branch during his first two years in office, Trump’s sincere call for unity is welcome, but it will need more than a few applause lines to carry the weight it needs.
Getting to a place of consensus will require strong unions of trust among congressional leaders, the president and the American people. Unfortunately, trust is running thin at the moment.
Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took to the Senate floor Tuesday to discount Trump’s unifying message even before the president had delivered his address, calling his actions “blatant hypocrisy.” Such “prebuttals” are the opposite of humility and trust.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to withhold floor votes to fund the government until the president and Democrats had worked out a deal gave little reason to trust his leadership and likely prolonged what became the longest partial government shutdown in the country’s history.
As a result, only 1 in 5 Americans trust the way Congress is running the country, according to Gallup, and the president’s approval ratings hover near historic lows.
The country can’t be unified without trust in each other and in the leaders chosen to represent the people. It is requisite for enacting what would otherwise be a bipartisan policy agenda.
The reality is investing in infrastructure, keeping the economy strong, reducing health care costs and battling pharmaceutical prices, as outlined in the president’s speech, are the policy areas that would likely make the largest impact on the average American life. They are, to quote Trump, “not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda” but rather “the agenda of the American people.”
Both parties have already shown their willingness to address these issues, and there’s little reason to assume a divided Congress couldn’t pass the appropriate bills under President Trump’s tenure.
But getting there would mean first getting past the next government funding deadline that’s fast approaching, which could also mean another tussle over border wall funding and another trial of trust in American leadership.22 comments on this story
Congress, however, is capable of working together. Trump was right to highlight significant bipartisan achievements from the previous year, including criminal justice reforms, overdue veterans assistance and measures to tackle the opioid crisis.
Continuing in that spirit — calling votes, holding debates and quickly funding the government — would put Congress on the right trajectory to tackle the legislative priorities that will improve the lives of each American.
Congresses and administrations are not remembered by the way they begin a project or by how it's celebrated in the end. The work in the middle is what will move the country forward.