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2019 State of the Union – Disingenuous and Divided

     I have watched every State of the Union (SotU) for over 45 years.  Over the years, the speech has been widely anticipated as the roadmap of government for the next year.  Presidents provide their priorities, boast of inflated accomplishments, play to supporters watching on TV, and relish in planned accolades by friendly members of Congress in attendance.  Most are lengthy, covering many topics, pausing to recognize guests planted in the viewing balcony, applause lines, and trying to pander to a variety of voters.  The Constitution refers to the SotU, but never envisioned its current form.  It was originally intended in a world without mass media, without instant coverage, and wherein the President and Congress did not interact as often or directly as the modern era.  The SotU was intended for the President to meet privately with Congress or just send a letter that literally informed Congress of the current state of the union.  In recent years it became an occasion with pageantry, protocol, and highly political.  Most Presidents get a bump in the polls after each SotU, but Trump’s won’t last.        

    Most anticipated that President Trump would give a more typical speech this year laying out plans for more bipartisanship and cooperation.  Everyone knew Trump would focus attention on his plans to build a wall and border crisis.  All Presidents offer positive economic news and predictions as a staple of the speech.  Would Trump discuss infrastructure, viewed by most as a critical need and area of strong bipartisanship?  Trump offered not a word about an infrastructure plan despite it being a clear path to cooperation with Congress and he was ominously silent about the looming government shutdown.  These speeches tend to be very long, often exceeding an hour.  This allows the President to include a laundry list of topics.  Last night, Trump appealed to Republicans, threatened Democrats, covered a range of topics, and as usual kept the fact checkers busy.  The speech was a series of contrived phony applause lines and ovations.  To be fair, this is part of the pageantry we expect from any SotU.  Last night was an extreme.  Republicans literally stood for every line item in a manufactured display.       

     President Trump brought up the economy multiple times during the speech.  He discussed tax cuts, job creation, rising wages, etc.  The U.S. is in the 8th year of an economic recovery, not a Trump miracle.  Although jobs numbers look good when released, the reality is grim.  As with previous administration, the analytics used in these reports is flawed and incomplete.  Trump touted manufacturing jobs, but corporations like GM announced thousands of layoffs.  Many companies continue laying off workers and even moving their companies out of the country (despite Trump’s promises to the contrary).   Corporate tax cuts may have worked if properly drafted to ensure the return of the billions of dollars hidden overseas, prevented companies from shifting to foreign countries, or benefitted the workforce.  Unfortunately, most corporations used the money for stock buy backs rather than to hire additional workers or raise their pay and benefits.  The extremely wealthy got even richer while the rest got nothing.  If Trump wants to take credit for an economy that benefits only the top 1%, perhaps top 10%, leaving 90% of the country worse off that before, we will discuss that again in 2020.    

     The country is facing a financial crisis that poses an existential threat to our future, yet Trump never mentioned it despite its importance and centrality to all we do.  Our national debt is reaching crippling levels with catastrophic consequences.  Forget paying down the huge debt, we are beginning to struggle just to make the interest payments.  These payments continue to rise exponentially each month as does the debt.  We continue to borrow more money just to fund the debt.  These interest payments are becoming the largest budget expenditure, soon to exceed all defense spending, which has been the largest budget item; threatening our ability to spend money on anything else no matter how important.  Calamity ensues when we can’t even make the interest payments let alone reduce the mountainous debt.  As we rapidly approach this point, the economy will tank and we will fall into another depression, causing national and international crises.  Everything and everyone will be in jeopardy.    

     Nevertheless, Trump, the king of bankruptcy, has generated record annual budget deficits over 1 TRILLION dollars per year.  That new debt adds to the existing debt that is already over 20 trillion dollars.  We are losing our country and both parties must act quickly.  Politicians love to campaign on lowering taxes.  It often sells well to the public.  The Bush tax cuts were cowardly in the face of 9-11, going into huge debt to fund two wars rather than postpone the tax cuts to pay for them.  In the face of massive deficits, uncontrollable spending, and perilous national debt, Trump and the Republicans passed additional tax cuts.  These went primarily to the upper echelons of wealth who had little real need for tax cuts.  It was unconscionable to give them tax cuts, adding significantly to the debt, and further hurting the lower echelons who needed the money and did not benefit from the economic gains of the passed several years.

     Income inequality is not a socialist contrivance.  It is the reality of today’s economy.  The data clearly demonstrates that the rich are becoming increasingly richer while the rest are losing.  Health care costs rise while quality care declines.  Wages do not keep pace with costs.  Entitlements, which people have earned by paying into them for decades, face a perilous future.  The top 1% owns over half of the world’s wealth.  The top 1% owns more wealth than the entire bottom 90% combined.  People have the right to benefit from their own innovation and hard work.  However, they must recognize they do so while availing themselves of the protections and services of society.  In order to sustain our system, it is imperative to stop giving tax cuts to the extremely wealthy while cutting services to the 90% of people who rely upon them.  They can enjoy immense wealth but still give back to the society that supported them. 

     Trump said the U.S. will never be a Socialist country.  He is confused between Socialism and Communism.  Things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., are socialistic protections that we would protect at all costs.  However, Democrats must be careful about the rising influence of Democratic Socialism and how that impacts their critical 50 state strategy and imperatives to win back the Senate and White House.  They need to communicate clearly to the American people, so people understand the truth, not Trump smears.  This issue is for another time.  However, Trump needs to address how he will protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to ensure their vitality and durability so that Americans never doubt they will receive the benefits they earned.  Trump did mention health care, vowing to reduce costs and cover preexisting conditions.  He falsely claimed that the cost of prescription drugs has fallen when the truth is that these costs continue to skyrocket.  In any case, if Trump was serious about health care, he could end the cycle of Republican attempts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and focus more on how to improve the system to fully achieve its intended goals of proper coverage for all Americans.           

     As part of his economic comments, Trump discussed the rollback of regulations.  The U.S. certainly had a complex system of layers of regulations that challenged efficiency.  However, the Trump Administration went far beyond the elimination of excessive regulations and took away our ability to properly regulate and protect the environment.  He rendered the EPA and Interior Department completely ineffective by appointing the worst polluters to leadership roles and removing any ability they had to protect our national parks or to ensure clean air, water, and soil for our people and our health.  We have the technology and public support, but the Trumpist Republican party prefers to get in bed with polluters and those who deny truth.  It is clear Trump has no true confidence or belief in his position when he resorts to banning even the use of the term climate change or any discussion of the theory.  There may be more than one response, but to deny conversation and analysis of the key theory is despicable and cowardly. 

     Climate change consequences are real and costly.  We are forced to endure increasing, strengthening storms with expensive government bailouts.  Rising sea levels, declining marine life, catastrophic droughts and famines, and other increasing consequences of inaction threaten the world.  The U.S. must be part of the effort to address these issues in a sensible, productive manner.  Trump proudly stated our fossil fuel statistics and energy independence but failed to mention clean energy or sustainability.  First and foremost, sustainability and clean energy are huge job creators.  Good jobs.  We should all be excited about that.  This is also a necessary component of proper environmental stewardship.          

     As expected, Trump focused heavily on the issue of immigration and border security.  Unfortunately, he conflated the very real humanitarian crisis with his phony national security crisis to try and justify his giant concrete wall from coast to coast.  His justification for the wall was a despicable series of absolute lies.  Trump spoke of caravans traveling to the border.  He described them as marauders intending to illegally enter the country to rape, pillage, and murder American citizens.  This is not true.  These are exhausted, desperate people who intend to apply for asylum at points of entry.  The vast majority are families with young children, not gang members.  They may not all ultimately qualify or be approved, but they have the right to apply and be treated humanely in the process. 

     This was a major campaign issue playing to his extremist base.  Although he repeatedly said Mexico was going to pay for it, he now threatens a second government shutdown to force Congress to build his wall.  It is true that Democrats have previously supported a wall as part of border security, but neither party has ever previously supported Trump’s idea of a giant concrete wall from coast to coast.  Republican leaders voiced opposition to this for the past two years when they controlled Congress.  There are areas of the border where various forms of fencing are necessary for various reasons and Democrats need to continue to support it.  This is approximately 250 miles not 3,000 miles.  This is part of an overall comprehensive border protection strategy involving barriers, technology, equipment, personnel, etc.  Most of border security should center on ports of entry, focusing on detection of smuggling and processing individuals seeking entry.  Currently, the points of entry are woefully inadequately resourced and that is the real crisis.  We need additional agents and judges.  The U.S. must cease the inhumane practice of putting people in cages and separating children from parents. 

     The Customs and Border Patrol has had over 3,000 vacancies that desperately need to be filled.  Immigration has been steadily trending down for years and is at a 50-year low.  Data shows that those here illegally commit crimes at a much lower rate than citizens.  Trump’s horror stories of immigrants committing heinous crimes are a gross misrepresentation of the facts.  Of course, there are some such cases, but the numbers do not back his rhetoric of fear and hate.  Additionally, the overwhelming number of those here illegally came in properly through ports of entry and stayed past their authorization.  In the weeks before the 2018 Midterms, Trump abused his authority as Commander-in-Chief, not to mention abusing military personnel and their families, by sending almost 6,000 troops to the border for a phony, contrived campaign stunt that separated them over the holidays.  Now he proposes to send more troops in another stunt designed to provide phony support for his politics.    

     Trump’s campaign promise was for a huge concrete wall from coast to coast.  Speaker Pelosi and Democrats rightfully refuse to agree to funding for this.  However, the real issue is border security.  No member of Congress is for open borders.  Certainly, neither party espouses something so foolish.  The real failure is that of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to fix our incredibly outdated system.  Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell have prevented bipartisan bills from coming up for a vote, knowing the bills would pass with bipartisan support, but were opposed by the minority of extremists in their party.  If Congress and the President are doing their job, we will see the Omnibus Immigration and Border Security Act of 2019. 

     Trump boldly asserted that if he had not been elected President, the U.S. would be at war right now with North Korea.  He is partially right.  Trump is the best thing that could have happened – for North Korea.  His first meeting with Kim Jong Un was a complete disgrace and now there is a second planned later this month in Vietnam.  Looks like Trump will finally get to go to Vietnam…  People have a right to be concerned.  The first meeting saw Trump immediately make concessions to Kim while getting nothing in return.  His very meeting with Kim gave Kim a huge victory.  Then he cancelled all U.S./South Korea military exercises, another huge win for Kim.  U.S. and South Korean military leaders have long since believed these annual exercises to be vital to our defense and cooperation.  Having personally participated in multiple such exercises I can attest to their success.  Kim has continued his reign of terror against his own people as well as his ongoing nuclearization efforts, to include missiles that could strike the U.S.  There should be no further meetings until and unless Kim halts all such programs and allows verification.  Instead, Trump claims he and Kim, a brutal dictator that starves, oppresses, and murders his own people, fell in love. 

     Trump’s Syria policy is another example of the danger of a willfully uninformed and unqualified President.  After a secret phone call with Turkish leader Erdogan, another autocratic leader, Trump abruptly announced an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Syria.  He proudly declared he had defeated ISIS.  ISIS is not defeated.  They have over 30,000 fighters dedicated to the Caliphate and the subjugation and oppression of people that ensues.  An abrupt U.S. withdrawal cedes Syria to Russia, Trump’s real intent in this move, giving Putin a huge victory in a long-sought goal.  Trump’s action also acquiesced to Turkey’s plans to slaughter the Syrian Kurds (and likely the Iraqi Kurds), who have been critical, steadfast allies of ours in multiple conflicts in Iraq and Syria. 

     Trump has also failed to comprehend the situation with Iran.  Prior to the multi-party agreement being signed, there was understandable skepticism and opposition because the agreement failed to address Iran’s support for international terrorism and regional interference and focused solely on Iran’s nuclear development.  However, once enacted, the U.S. complied by returning seized Iranian assets as required by international law, so that can’t be undone.  Additionally, the evidence showed, and Trump’s own intelligence advisors confirmed, that Iran was complying.  Trump rightfully criticizes Iran and warns of Iranian actions, but this has no connection to the agreement.  He was wrong to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. because it did nothing to improve the situation.  All his military and intelligence advisors were right, he was wrong again.                       

     President Trump must cease his willful ignorance, refusal to read, and rejection of briefings by his staff, especially on defense, intelligence, and national security matters.  These are crucial, potentially dangerous issues facing the country and if Trump continues to ignore facts and evaluate policy, he is completely unfit to be President.  Instead, he engages in secret phone calls with adversaries and clandestine discussions with cronies, all to the detriment of our national security interests.  The people have always had a right to know the President’s schedule, but Trump conceals even the existence of his meetings, let alone the subjects discussed.  This is not the transparency he promised the American people.  Instead, these dedicated career professionals and his own political appointees are told not to give him the truth when it contradicts his fanciful, unrealistic vision.  If they do not comply, he treats them to juvenile tantrums for their efforts to professional and competently advise him.   

     Trump repeated his controversial announcement that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the INF Treaty with Russia.  Putin has wanted to end this treaty for quite some time mostly concerning the threat from Chinese missiles along their extensive border, so Trump was again serving his Russia master.  More importantly, Trump seemed to relish in a renewed nuclear arms race.  He fails to understand the substantial threat that poses to our security and the unbearable increase in our debt to develop and produce a new series of missiles.  The status quo, while imperfect, served us better.

     Possibly the most controversial and jaw-dropping moment was Trump’s overt threat to Democrats not to investigate his administration or all legislation and progress would come to a halt.  Let us not forget the absurd House investigation of Hilary Clinton and Benghazi that they intentionally dragged on endlessly for the admittedly sole purpose of discrediting Clinton and preventing her from winning the Presidency.  For two years of total Republican control, the Trump Administration escaped any semblance of Congressional oversight.  This is an important duty required by the Constitution and necessary as a check on power. 

     An administration not fraught with corruption, engaging in criminal activity, or acting against the interests of the country has nothing to worry about from oversight.  Clearly Trump is terrified and that speaks volumes.  For two years, the so-called Freedom Caucus, more aptly referred to as the Russia Caucus, strove to cover up Russia’s interference in our election and impropriety within the Trump campaign and administration.  Trump and his coverup team in the House have waged a misinformation campaign to discredit and interfere with the Mueller Investigation.  Democrats, and any responsible legislators, have a responsibility to reverse the damage done and perform this function properly, fairly, and professionally.  In any case, Trump’s Nixonian threats were entirely improper and display insight into the dark corners of his administration.             

     Noticeably missing from the speech was any mention of the ongoing scourge of gun violence plaguing our nation.  Each year approximately 40,000 people die from gun violence.  We see mass shootings in schools taking innocent lives in what should be safe places.  We can enact gun safety measures to protect society without infringing on the rights of lawful gun owners.  Gun safety and lawful gun ownership are not mutually exclusive, but rather can and should be harmonious.  Rather than protect our children, President Trump tightly aligns himself with the NRA’s extremist rhetoric and agenda.  It appears no matter how many mass shootings take innocent lives across the country, Trump and his allies simply do not care.  Reasonable gun safety legislation could pass both houses, but Leader McConnell will not allow a vote in the Senate.  Trump and McConnell apparently care about a handful of individuals they claim were murdered by illegal immigrants but care not at all about the innocent children slaughtered in schools.

     The President called for an end to the politics of retribution and resistance.  This is the ultimate irony.  Trump has engaged in reprehensible conduct with his Tweet storms and relentless, nasty, often baseless attacks on so many people.  Trump has continually denigrated the institutions of our government and the dedicated professionals therein.  He obstructed justice almost daily with ridiculous attacks on the Special Counsel Mueller Investigation, the FBI, members of Congress, et al.  His administration has been the most dangerously corrupt in history.  They improperly spent vast sums of money and ignored significant financial and business conflicts of interest.  The swamp is larger and stinkier than ever before.  Instead of wanting to safeguard the nation from an attack on our democracy, Trump endeavored to cover up serious wrongdoing. 

     Mr. President, white supremacists, Nazis, Klansmen, and other who preach hate and violence are not good people.  They are evil incarnate.  I do not like the concept of an official resistance to elected leadership.  However, when a leader appears to engage in criminal activity, unprecedented corruption within the administration, extreme secrecy concerning engagement with our adversaries and enemies, and dangerous policies that hurt the safety, security, people’s well-being, and future of the nation.  It is the responsibility of other leaders and the people they serve to stand up and be heard.  Trump is the one who initiated a scorched earth approach to governance, and he must be the one to lead any effort to stop it.  He needs to renounce the hate and division he has sown.  Most of all, he must end the campaign of daily dishonesty.  Trump has taking lying to a disgusting new low, even for politicians.  If he does not want to be challenged on everything, he must earn trust by being more honest. 

     The state of the union is disingenuous and divided.  The President has a responsibility to lead and unite.  Trump has utterly failed in his most sacred duties and thus far has shown no interest in doing the job.  He needs to read and learn the material.  He needs to make policy decisions that are in the interests of the country, not his personal interests.  Hopefully the Mueller Investigation will uncover the truth about the 2016 campaign, Russian interference, and exactly the nature of Trump’s subjugation to Putin.  For now, we need both the Republican and Democratic parties to begin the process to nominate a successor to Trump.  The country deserves a choice between qualified, competent candidates that understand the complex world, the range of U.S. policies, will act in the best interests of the country, and who is willing to lead.     

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