Last night, President Donald Trump took to the podium to address a nation historically divided, framing his speech as a call for unity. Despite an advertised unified front, the specific details of Trump’s speech hewed closely to the partisan positions of the Republican Party while his trademark loose relationship with facts and truth revealed itself throughout the address. Trump focused his speech on the economy, energy, and immigration, with a brief shout-out to his long-promised, still-undeveloped infrastructure plan. Read on to learn more about what was said and left unsaid (like how climate change is impacting the US) in the President’s speech.
Trump’s economy – and reputation – took a hit from the devastating hurricane and wildfire season in 2017. “To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else — we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” said Trump on the same day that his Administration announced that it is ending food and water aid to Puerto Rico. “If we’re giving free water and food, that means that families are not going to supermarkets to buy,” FEMA’s director in Puerto Rico Alejandro De La Campa told NPR. “It is affecting the economy of Puerto Rico.” Still, some communities do not feel ready to go without FEMA food and water aid. “There are some municipalities that may not need the help anymore, because they’ve got nearly 100 percent of their energy and water back,” Morovis Mayor Carmen Maldonado told NPR. “Ours is not so lucky.”
While it is not possible to say with any certainty that any particular extreme weather event is caused by climate change, the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is precisely what scientists expect in a rapidly warming world. The historic flooding in Houston during Hurricane Harvey broke the all-time record daily rainfall accumulations on both August 26 and 27. It seems likely that this record will be broken soon enough as the planet’s climate continues to be drastically altered. To avoid the worst, the United States must rapidly transition to a clean energy economy. Unfortunately, Trump infamously withdrew the United States from the landmark Paris agreement, an international effort spearheaded by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, and has pursued anti-environmentalist policies at seemingly every turn.
Trump became President in part because of his economic call to arms to defend manufacturing workers and coal miners. “Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades,” said Trump, disregarding the fact that automotive employment is actually lower than it was a year ago. “We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump boasted. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”
In fact, the United States still is a net importer of energy, though it is expected to become a net exporter in the 2020s as a result of long-term trends that, you guessed it, developed under President Barack Obama. More importantly, coal is not clean. Efficient clean-coal technology has not yet been developed, though the fossil fuel seems likely to fade away anyways as competition from natural gas and renewable energy becomes more pronounced. Meanwhile, coal miner deaths in the United States nearly doubled in Trump’s first year in office.
Trump at times seemed to be describing a very different country than the one he now leads. “A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” said Trump, reflecting on the early days of his presidency. Optimistic we are not. As of early January 2018, 69% of Americans believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Although this is consistent with numbers seen during the second Obama Administration and earlier in the Trump Administration, it is a far cry from widespread optimism. This strong pessimism regarding the country’s future comes at a time when a majority of Americans are now optimistic about the economy.
Finally, Trump spoke about the hottest issue on Capitol Hill right now: immigration. When the President explained his plans to limit legal immigration to the United States, he was greeted with boos and hisses. Immigration to the United States has proven to be an important ingredient in the country’s economic success. More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants to the United States. Studies have shown that immigration has resulted in a net positive economic impact in the United States, with negative impacts of immigration most felt by native-born adults without a high school education. In light of Trump’s push to limit legal immigration and deport Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children), business and tech interests have responded with opposition. It remains to be seen whether industry opposition can persuade Congress to protect their Dreamer employees.
Absent from Trump’s speech: any mention of the sprawling Trump-Russia investigation which has consumed his presidency. At least Trump did not mimic Nixon, who urged the nation to end the Watergate investigation during his 1974 State of the Union Address. Seven months later, President Nixon resigned from the office in shame.