Opinion: Trump Mongers Fear at State of the Union
By Emily Dalgleish, Guest Columnist
Historically, when presidents have addressed the joint Congress for the State of the Union after their party was defeated during the midterms, they call for bipartisanship and unity. What distinguishes these speeches is the method which the president uses to seek unity. Though 2018 voters called for change, Trump used the same method to unite people as he did during his 2016 campaign: fear.
To call for unity in border wall negotiations, Trump called illegal immigration an “urgent national crisis,” not only sparking fear but hinting at the possibility of calling a national emergency to fund the border wall, rather than funding actual emergencies. He described “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and sex traffickers” coming into our country, though the vast majority of immigrants are not dangerous. He cited that many women are sexually assaulted during their journey to cross the border, which was the only time during his State of the Union (and his presidency) that he expressed concern for the problem of sexual assault. He explained that the flow of illegal drugs across the border killed many Americans, even though most drugs coming into the United States come through a legal point of entry rather than a wall-less section of the border. Though this address came only weeks after a government shutdown caused his border wall fight and 10 days before the next potential shutdown, it was clear that President Trump was not open to bipartisan cooperation but would continue to stubbornly push his agenda using fear and falsehoods.
President Trump applied this fear tactic to other divisive issues throughout the speech. He threatened that the economy could be at risk if there were “ridiculous partisan investigations,” which falsely poses economic success and justice as mutually exclusive. He described an abortion bill in New York that allows late-term abortions only for very specific health concerns as allowing “a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.” To announce his next meeting with Kim Jong Un, he expressed that America would be at war with North Korea if he had not been elected president. This is not only a bizarre assumption to make, but brushes over the tension President Trump created with Kim Jong Un in the past. He also depicted socialism as the cause for the downfall of Venezuela, then warned that socialism is rising in America and that it is a threat to freedom. He does so to characterize the most leftist Democrats as enemies to be feared. These messages of downfall, threats, and crisis do unite people, but only the people that President Trump cares to unite – his supporters.
However, last night we also saw a push for unity using a different tactic: hope. By simply looking at the chamber, the unity was visible. Though the new members of Congress are more diverse than ever before, last night they united in their looks. Democratic women of the House wore white blazers and Democratic men wore white ribbons, harkening back to the suffrage movement, to represent their unity in the push for progress and human rights. This unity was especially evident when President Trump celebrated the number of women entering the workforce. The women of Congress stood up to congratulate themselves and each other on their new jobs, that were, in a way, caused by President Trump. This small action exemplified the joy, progress, and hope the new members bring to Congress. In her State of the Union response, Stacy Abrams, too, focused on perseverance and strength through community and told a heartwarming story about her father to emphasize the value of hard work and compassion. Abrams and the new women of Congress exemplify leadership and unity through hope.
The State of the Union address made clear that America is progressing quickly, and President Trump may not be able to keep up. Americans are following new hope, not old fear, and change created by hope is far more powerful than change created by fear.