The State of the Union


To his political opponents, in their almost demented disdain for him, Donald Trump is a buffoon. But it did not seem to be a buffoon who delivered the State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday. The President liberals so love to hate gave an assured performance. One commentator noted that the arrogant Trump swagger seemed less evident, but then added that maybe that was because Americans have become used to the ways of their unusual leader.

Trump’s key speech comes at the midpoint in his incumbency. There is every indication that he intends to run for a second term in two years’ time. Democrat hopefuls, so far most of them women, are starting to line up to bid to be his opponent next year. If this State of the Union address can be taken as Trump’s opening pitch in his reelection campaign, then two clear parts of his platform emerge. The first, of course, is the Wall. Building a barrier strong enough to block illegal migrants and smugglers from Mexico was a key issue in his first campaign. Leaving aside the original bluster which included his assertion, since abandoned, that he would get the Mexican government to pay for the project, the Wall was a campaign promise he has been unable to carry through because the now-Democrat-controlled House has blocked the necessary funds.

By refusing to sign off the appropriations bill that did not include a budget for the new frontier defenses, the President brought about the five-week government shutdown, the longest in US history. He ended the closure temporarily until February 15 giving Congress the chance to reconsider. Democrats, including his political archenemy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who hailed this as a victory may have been premature. The ball is now back in their court. If they continue to block the Mexican security barrier, even in the modified form that Trump has signaled, they will have armed Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign with the protest that they have frustrated the wish of voters in 2016.

And the President’s record elsewhere is looking strong, as he made clear in this address. He has delivered on his promises to pull out of the Paris climate accord and tear up Obama’s misconceived nuclear deal with Iran. He may not yet have cut America’s yawning trade deficit with China but he has fired some big guns in the opening salvoes, including pressing Beijing over the theft and misuse of intellectual property. He has also cut taxes and burdensome regulations, though the latter by no means as much as businesses had hoped. Trump also pointed out that for the first time in 65 years, the country has become a net energy exporter.

But his biggest boast was the “unprecedented economic boom” which has seen 5.3 million new jobs, 600,000 of them in manufacturing, along with rising wages and low unemployment. Given that US elections have more often than not been won on the basis of economic issues, Trump looks in a strong position for a second term, especially if he can characterize his Democrat opponents as “un-American” socialists. But in the next 23 months before Americans vote, there is much that could happen to the US economy, not least a global slowdown caused by China’s economic troubles, which, of course, Trump himself has done so much to trigger.