Thursday, February 07, 2019

The State of the Union 2019--Thoughts on the Rituals of Stalemate and the Theater of Discourse in the State of the Union Speech and the Democratic Party Response


Long before the elections of 2016, the American Republic had been moving toward more formal and open hostilities in the cultural civil war, one with social, economic, cultural and political consequences, that was one of the great consequences of the immediate post 1945 period. That war only intensified after Mr. Trump assumed the U.S. Presidency. From 2016, the tensions between the principal players in the great war for the control of the basic narratives of the American Republic and the orthodox principles that constrain its "official" society came out of the shadows and assumed a central role in the politics that has followed.  

To an extent, this now quite public and formal eruption might in the long term be useful for the Republic.  Issues long buried as unsuitable for "polite political society" have now become the central elements of political, cultural and social battles among those with the money, power and clout to "make a difference"--and all, of course on the behalf of the rest of the nation, whose cadres are meant to listen reverentially, pick sides, and follow directions for the glorious victory of any of those parties.  Quite sensible--all sides have been working hard to reduce the autonomy of the individual even as it sharpens the  delineations of the aggregations that now serve as the incarnations of meta-persons, social persons constructs, built from the amalgamations of traits with some political value. 

Like many others, I watch the slow, excruciating, and largely humorless lurch toward some sort of apotheosis with a combination of impatience and dread. But a-lurching we must go.

It is with that in mind that I read through President trump's State of the Union Address, and the response by Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams. The State of the Union Address in Congress had itself for a time become an issue of high politics as both parties played hardball for a variety of objectives dear to them and their constituents and maneuvered for advantage around the disaster that has been the closure of the government. 

Mr. Trump's speech along Ms. Abrams' response follow, along with very brief comments. For those who desire an annotated journey through the President's speech, you may find the following of some value: here (New York Times), here (The Washington Post), and here (NPR). For an thought leader takaways here, and here.

1. It has been the curse of this generation of the political class and those that manage them that they resort all too easily to data driven pandering.  It was hard not to start thinking about the conflation of the focus group (and sometimes pithy and well targeted) rhetorical bites in television infomercials with the narrative offered up to the gods of social media assessment so evident in both speech and response.  That is not to blame the speakers.  Goodness knows, speech is now so tightly constrained by data driven expectations satisfaction that is is hard to imagine why they would even try to write something original for consumption.  One can envision that day (perhaps already here) where such speeches are completely detached from the human element--a product of the logical cobbling together of key words and phrases amassed for that purpose through well designed algorithms. 

2. And, indeed, there is evidence that the intelligentsia is already well disposed toward the embrace of algorithmically authored verbiage--as long as it meets the ideologically pre-programmed checklists that now pass for analysis. This tells us more, of course, about the state of our orthodoxy--and the modalities of ethics and other devices used to protect those orthodoxies--that it may say about whatever content those remarks purport to deliver.

3. As a consequence, there should be no surprise that the speeches contain nothing "new" in the sense of rhetorical impulses toward movement forward from the current positions of the ideological trenches built at great costs by our political "Great Powers" in the landscape of our "Flanders Fields" (if I may shamelessly invoke the imagery of WWI). What one sees yet again, as one has seen with increasing clarity since the start of President Obama’s second term, is the commitment of both of the Great Power Parties to quite strategically driven trench warfare. And the thinking of these political organizations is roughly similar to that of the general staffs of the European Great Powers in 1914—the idea that each can out last, out spend and out talk the other for the control of the political narrative (and the legitimating votes as a gateway to the unfettered exercise of delegated power). But one need go no further than the speeches themselves. Mr. Trump invoked the analogy quite directly but with reference to President Reagan and directed outward toward military competition for dominance with Russia. Ms. Abrams was perhaps more subtle—by invoking the imagery of historical determinism toward goals that (ought to be ) shared.

(Pix credit here))

4. In the absence of substance, the State of the Union and the response by the opposition party necessarily descends to theatre. But that is not a criticism. Americans have long ago ceased to speak for the purpose of communicating but instead deploy words and phrases for the purpose of inciting mass response (or the approving clucking of those who amplify and direct mass reactions). One is reminded of the person in early live broadcast television and on game shows, whose role was to hold up words (signs) the purpose of which was to induce reaction (theater) as signaled by the text (applaud, laugh, stamp feet, etc.). That is not new, American political discourse has been slithering toward those forms for almost a generation. What may be new after 2016 is the conscious and open embrace of the form by both the speaker and his audience.

5. But through the magic of technology the “whole world is a stage” and actors turned politicians, and politicians turned actors are acutely aware that there is more power in the scene itself than in the triggering effect of signaling words and phrases (with apologies for the descent into the land of cliché). In this context, Speaker Pelosi’s clapping acquired greater power (and more notice) than the rhetorical flourishes of either speech or response. ""She invented this weird walrus clap that was mocking, aggressive, and delightfully surreal all at the same time," one Twitter user wrote" (here) The pictures used to enrich social media and press accounts become the incarnation of the aggregation of the words that effectively substitute for the words themselves. The power of rhetoric is now in memes and "Photoshop Battles" (here) rather within which words and their ideas shrivel.  "Throughout the speech the House speaker managed to undermine Trump without speaking a word, employing subtle eye rolls or apparently ignoring him by reading papers to show her disapproval" ( Pelosi turns clapping into a viral art form as she trolls Trump). 

6.  It follows that it is the pictures used to depict the event, rather than the event itself that has now--after a very long gestation as the practices of traditional press outlets changed to suit the times and their taste for direct political engagement--become not just its representation but also its  management.  The object remains the same, inflaming passions, or in the drier language of the administrator of the engagement of the (voting or focus group relevant) masses might say, to lead people to an appropriate understanding of events and their implications. Not that this is necessarily to be deplored; it is an ancient habit of polities in any case.  Rather its transformation through shifting importance of images and theatre over words, that represents a curious turn in the performance of politics--even among the highfaluting elite elements of the Republic.   But one remember that what appears perfectly positive in one era might in another be viewed as implicating future political, social and cultural taboos (for example in the racial undertones of American WWI propaganda; images like words can come back to bite one):

 (Pix credit HERE)

7. If uninspired by the reactionary historical social justice determinism of the Democratic Party, or the passive aggressive street brawler merchant hustling of the Republican Party, then what might be usefully retrieved from the words communicated at this (necessarily important—because the nation has now constructed it so) event?

A. Calls for unity have been reduced to fetish invocations. They are a necessary incantation, an opening spell, that makes it possible to then enter into the discourse of trench warfare.

B. Unity calls, however, serve an important function—for they do not mean in the speechifying of either Party that the warring political organs ought to come together—but rather than there is a clearly identifiable orthodoxy to which all political actors must conform. This the call to unity actually is (1) an affirmation of an overarching and binding orthodoxy, (2) an acknowledgement of heresy on the part of political opponents, and (3) a declaration that disciplinary mechanisms are necessary to bring opponents back to conformity.

C. Those orthodoxies of course point in very different directions. Both place their faith in the state, and in the community, to be sure. But each emphasizes states and community is dramatically different ways. And at the heart of this, for both parties, is the definition and control of the masses whose management and control of their most important powers (and of these especially to vote) is at the heart of the pragmatic objectives of each of the parties. Ms. Abrams, of course, was most explicit, but she and her supporters believe that she was the victim of abuse in that respect. At the same time, migration issues and census counts also play into the larger calculus—each in part connected to the way in which “the people” are constituted recognized, and afforded roles in the space reserved for mass participation.  The arguments remain quintessentially and passionately American, rooted in a history of a slow progress toward universal suffrage.  And yet it is also tempting to understand the overtones of Leninism that such rhetorical stances evoke, and quite strongly. Its Leninist essence might be understood in what appears to be a universal political set of "first principles" around the issue of who constitutes "the people." And "people" have always (even in the United States) been understood  to constitute only that portion of the mass of the inhabitants who are vested with participatory political. In the U.S. that is currently understood in terms of identity (race, gender, religion and the like). In China, it was understood in the economic terms of class struggle ("Who are the people? At the present stage in China, they are the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie. . . they enforce their dictatorship over the running dogs of imperialism . . . suppress them, allow them only to behave themselves and not to be unruly in word or deed." Mao Zedong, On the People's Democratic Dictatorship).)

D. Individuals have merged with their political significance. One no longer understands people as individuals—but rather they are manifestation (the living incarnation) of a politics, experience, status or condition that points to the orthodoxy to which all political will must bend. It is not for nothing that pundits sometimes spend as much time of an analysis of the legions of “strategic invitees” of both parties than they do on the speeches. And yet those invitees serve as the dioramas of large portions of the speech and response which use them to incarnate abstract points (the orthodoxy). In a sense, this reminds us of the power of the ancient practice of venerating saints and martyrs both for their incarnation of “truth” and as living examples of the practice of truth in our times. The veneration of Logos, then, is one of the great markers of this age—and one is likely to see this practice intensified (and augmented by books on saints and martyrs and—in this age—of visual depictions through documentaries and other theatrical renditions).

(Pix Credit: Here's Why Congresswomen Will Wear All White to the State of the Union)

E. Color matters in a world in which it is impossible to escape the public eye. A generation ago the West became enamored of “color” revolutions. That made for good copy and served as a useful way of flattening events to make them easier to digest and to manage (at least with respect to the domestic response sought). There was a bit of color revolution in the air as part of the theatrical elements of the speeches. Democrats rallied around white; Mrs. Trump around a more military style; and Tiffany Trump causes a stir precisely because she wore white rather than some other color. The speech, and its response, then, were worn, in this instance, on the bodies of women. 

(Pix Credit: Tiffany Trump arrives dressed in white to hear President Donald Trump deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harnik, AP))

F. Class warfare still sells; it is something special to watch the translation of the old European (and Cuban) ideological obsession with class warfare into the rhetoric of the American political organ generally understood to be its most right wing (using that term with caution here because the underlying meaning of relational terms like left and right, and conservative and liberal, have lost all of the contextual bearings in this century in this Republic). As rhetoric it was thus marvelous to hear that invocation from Mr. Trump who himself occupies an interesting space within its divisions: “No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls, and gates, and guards.” Ms. Abrams countered Mr. Trump’s class, with class stories of her own, but added the intersectionality of race and gender. These also sell well—at least as disciplinary tropes within public discursive space (and increasingly private economic space as well).

Remarks by President Trump in State of the Union Address

Issued on: February 6, 2019

February 5, 2019
9:07 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Madam Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, the First Lady of the United States — (applause) — and my fellow Americans:

We meet tonight at a moment of unlimited potential. As we begin a new Congress, I stand here ready to work with you to achieve historic breakthroughs for all Americans.

Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now, gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties but as one nation. (Applause.)

The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda. It’s the agenda of the American people.

Many of us have campaigned on the same core promises: to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs; to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern, and secure; and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.

There is a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage, together, to seize it. (Applause.) Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country. (Applause.)

This year, America will recognize two important anniversaries that show us the majesty of America’s mission and the power of American pride.

In June, we mark 75 years since the start of what General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Great Crusade” — the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II. (Applause.) On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky, and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea, to save our civilization from tyranny. Here with us tonight are three of those incredible heroes: Private First Class Joseph Reilly, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker, and Sergeant Herman Zeitchik. (Applause.) Please. Gentlemen, we salute you.

In 2019, we also celebrate 50 years since brave young pilots flew a quarter of a million miles through space to plant the American flag on the face of the moon. Half a century later, we are joined by one of the Apollo 11 astronauts who planted that flag: Buzz Aldrin. (Applause.) Thank you, Buzz. This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets. (Applause.)

In the 20th century, America saved freedom, transformed science, redefined the middle class, and, when you get down to it, there’s nothing anywhere in the world that can compete with America. (Applause.) Now we must step boldly and bravely into the next chapter of this great American adventure, and we must create a new standard of living for the 21st century. An amazing quality of life for all of our citizens is within reach.

We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before. (Applause.)

But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution, and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good. (Applause.)

Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.

We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction.

Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness. (Applause.)

Over the last two years, my administration has moved with urgency and historic speed to confront problems neglected by leaders of both parties over many decades.

In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before. There’s been nothing like it. We have created 5.3 million new jobs and, importantly, added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs — something which almost everyone said was impossible to do. But the fact is, we are just getting started. (Applause.)

Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades and growing for blue-collar workers, who I promised to fight for. They’re growing faster than anyone else thought possible. Nearly 5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps. (Applause.) The U.S. economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office. And we are considered, far and away, the hottest economy anywhere in the world. Not even close. (Applause.)

Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in over half a century. (Applause.) African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded. (Applause.) Unemployment for Americans with disabilities has also reached an all-time low. (Applause.) More people are working now than at any time in the history of our country — 157 million people at work. (Applause.)

We passed a massive tax cut for working families and doubled the child tax credit. (Applause.)

We virtually ended the estate tax — or death tax, as it is often called — on small businesses for ranchers and also for family farms. (Applause.)

We eliminated the very unpopular Obamacare individual mandate penalty. (Applause.) And to give critically ill patients access to lifesaving cures, we passed, very importantly, Right to Try. (Applause.)

My administration has cut more regulations in a short period of time than any other administration during its entire tenure. (Applause.) Companies are coming back to our country in large numbers thanks to our historic reductions in taxes and regulations. (Applause.)

And we have unleashed a revolution in American energy. The United States is now the number-one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. (Applause.) And now, for the first time in 65 years, we are a net exporter of energy. (Applause.)

After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on Earth, by far, and America — (applause) — America is again winning each and every day. (Applause.)

Members of Congress: The state of our union is strong. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: That sounds so good. (Laughter.)

Our country is vibrant and our economy is thriving like never before.

On Friday, it was announced that we added another 304,000 jobs last month alone — almost double the number expected. (Applause.) An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. (Applause.)

If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.

We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad. This new era of cooperation can start with finally confirming the more than 300 highly qualified nominees who are still stuck in the Senate. In some cases, years and years waiting. Not right. (Applause.) The Senate has failed to act on these nominations, which is unfair to the nominees and very unfair to our country.

Now is the time for bipartisan action. Believe it or not, we have already proven that that’s possible.

In the last Congress, both parties came together to pass unprecedented legislation to confront the opioid crisis, a sweeping new farm bill, historic VA reforms. And after four decades of rejection, we passed VA Accountability so that we can finally terminate those who mistreat our wonderful veterans. (Applause.)

And just weeks ago, both parties united for groundbreaking criminal justice reform. They said it couldn’t be done. (Applause.)

Last year, I heard, through friends, the story of Alice Johnson. I was deeply moved. In 1997, Alice was sentenced to life in prison as a first-time non-violent drug offender. Over the next 22 years, she became a prison minister, inspiring others to choose a better path. She had a big impact on that prison population, and far beyond.

Alice’s story underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing, and the need to remedy this total injustice. She served almost that 22 years and had expected to be in prison for the remainder of her life.

In June, I commuted Alice’s sentence. When I saw Alice’s beautiful family greet her at the prison gates, hugging and kissing and crying and laughing, I knew I did something right. Alice is with us tonight, and she is a terrific woman. Terrific. Alice, please. (Applause.)

Alice, thank you for reminding us that we always have the power to shape our own destiny. Thank you very much, Alice. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Inspired by stories like Alice’s, my administration worked closely with members of both parties to sign the FIRST STEP Act into law. Big deal. (Applause.) It’s a big deal.

This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African American community. The FIRST STEP Act gives non-violent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now states across the country are following our lead. America is a nation that believes in redemption.

We are also joined tonight by Matthew Charles from Tennessee. In 1996, at the age of 30, Matthew was sentenced to 35 years for selling drugs and related offenses. Over the next two decades, he completed more than 30 Bible studies, became a law clerk, and mentored many of his fellow inmates.

Now, Matthew is the very first person to be released from prison under the FIRST STEP Act. (Applause.) Matthew, please. Thank you, Matthew. Welcome home. (Applause.)

Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis. Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border.

Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business. (Applause.)

As we speak, large, organized caravans are on the march to the United States. We have just heard that Mexican cities, in order to remove the illegal immigrants from their communities, are getting trucks and buses to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection. I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for this tremendous onslaught.

This is a moral issue. The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial wellbeing of all America. We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today who followed the rules and respected our laws. Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. (Applause.)

I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally. (Applause.)

Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country.

No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls, and gates, and guards. (Applause.)

Meanwhile, working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration: reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools, hospitals that are so crowded you can’t get in, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net. Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate; it is actually very cruel. (Applause.)

One in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north. Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country. Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.

Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.

The savage gang, MS-13, now operates in at least 20 different American states, and they almost all come through our southern border. Just yesterday, an MS-13 gang member was taken into custody for a fatal shooting on a subway platform in New York City. We are removing these gang members by the thousands. But until we secure our border, they’re going to keep streaming right back in.

Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens. I’ve gotten to know many wonderful Angel moms and dads, and families. No one should ever have to suffer the horrible heartache that they have had to endure.

Here tonight is Debra Bissell. Just three weeks ago, Debra’s parents, Gerald and Sharon, were burglarized and shot to death in their Reno, Nevada home by an illegal alien. They were in their eighties, and are survived by 4 children, 11 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren. Also here tonight are Gerald and Sharon’s granddaughter Heather, and great-granddaughter Madison.

To Debra, Heather, Madison, please stand. Few can understand your pain. Thank you. And thank you for being here. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

I will never forget, and I will fight for the memory of Gerald and Sharon that it should never happen again. Not one more American life should be lost because our nation failed to control its very dangerous border.

In the last two years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings or murders.

We are joined tonight by one of those law enforcement heroes: ICE Special Agent Elvin Hernandez. When Elvin — (applause) — thank you.

When Elvin was a boy, he and his family legally immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. At the age of eight, Elvin told his dad he wanted to become a Special Agent. Today, he leads investigations into the scourge of international sex trafficking.

Elvin says that, “If I can make sure these young girls get their justice, I’ve [really] done my job.” Thanks to his work, and that of his incredible colleagues, more than 300 women and girls have been rescued from the horror of this terrible situation, and more than 1,500 sadistic traffickers have been put behind bars. (Applause.) Thank you, Elvin.

We will always support the brave men and women of law enforcement, and I pledge to you tonight that I will never abolish our heroes from ICE. Thank you. (Applause.)

My administration has sent to Congress a commonsense proposal to end the crisis on the southern border. It includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling, and plans for a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.

In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall, but the proper wall never got built. I will get it built. (Applause.)

This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by the border agents as having the greatest need. And these agents will tell you: Where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down. (Applause.)

San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.

The border city of El Paso, Texas used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the entire country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country. Simply put: Walls work, and walls save lives. (Applause.)

So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.

As we work to defend our people’s safety, we must also ensure our economic resurgence continues at a rapid pace. No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year. (Applause.)

You weren’t supposed to do that. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before. (Applause.)

Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this. (Laughter.)

And exactly one century after Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: That’s great. Really great. And congratulations. That’s great.

As part of our commitment to improving opportunity for women everywhere, this Thursday we are launching the first-ever government-wide initiative focused on economic empowerment for women in developing countries.

To build on — (applause) — thank you. To build on our incredible economic success, one priority is paramount: reversing decades of calamitous trade policies. So bad.

We are now making it clear to China that, after years of targeting our industries and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end. (Applause.) Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, and now our Treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars.

But I don’t blame China for taking advantage of us; I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen. I have great respect for President Xi, and we are now working on a new trade deal with China. But it must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs. (Applause.) Thank you.

Another historic trade blunder was the catastrophe known as NAFTA. I have met the men and women of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Hampshire, and many other states whose dreams were shattered by the signing of NAFTA. For years, politicians promised them they would renegotiate for a better deal, but no one ever tried, until now.

Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the USMCA, will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers like they haven’t had delivered to for a long time. I hope you can pass the USMCA into law so that we can bring back our manufacturing jobs in even greater numbers, expand American agriculture, protect intellectual property, and ensure that more cars are proudly stamped with our four beautiful words: “Made in the USA.” (Applause.)

Tonight, I am also asking you to pass the United States Reciprocal Trade Act, so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the exact same product that they sell to us. (Applause.)

Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure. (Applause.)

I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future. This is not an option. This is a necessity.

The next major priority for me, and for all of us, should be to lower the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, and to protect patients with preexisting conditions. (Applause.)

Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018, drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years. (Applause.)

But we must do more. It’s unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, this is unfair, and together we will stop it — and we’ll stop it fast. (Applause.)

I am asking Congress to pass legislation that finally takes on the problem of global freeloading and delivers fairness and price transparency for American patients, finally. (Applause.)

We should also require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs way down. (Applause.)

No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom. In recent years — (applause) — in recent years, we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. We have made incredible strides. Incredible. (Applause.) Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond. (Applause.)

Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind: the fight against childhood cancer. (Applause.)

Joining Melania in the gallery this evening is a very brave 10-year-old girl, Grace Eline. Every birthday — (applause) — hi, Grace. (Laughter.) Every birthday since she was four, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself. That’s what happened.

Last year, Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately, she began radiation treatment. At the same time, she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer. (Applause.) When Grace completed treatment last fall, her doctors and nurses cheered — they loved her; they still love her — with tears in their eyes as she hung up a poster that read: “Last day of chemo.” (Applause.) Thank you very much, Grace. You are a great inspiration to everyone in this room. Thank you very much.

Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades. My budget will ask Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical lifesaving research.

To help support working parents, the time has come to pass School Choice for Americans’ children. (Applause.) I am also proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child. (Applause.)

There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days. Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.

To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb. (Applause.)

Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. (Applause.) And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God.

The final part of my agenda is to protect American security. Over the last two years, we have begun to fully rebuild the United States military, with $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year.

We are also getting other nations to pay their fair share. (Applause.) Finally. Finally. For years, the United States was being treated very unfairly by friends of ours, members of NATO. But now we have secured, over the last couple of years, more than $100 billion of increase in defense spending from our NATO Allies. (Applause.) They said it couldn’t be done.

As part of our military build-up, the United States is developing a state-of-the-art missile defense system.

Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests.

For example, decades ago, the United States entered into a treaty with Russia in which we agreed to limit and reduce our missile capability. While we followed the agreement and the rules to the letter, Russia repeatedly violated its terms. It’s been going on for many years. That is why I announced that the United States is officially withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF Treaty.

Perhaps — (applause) — we really have no choice. Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far. (Applause.)

As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in more than 15 months. If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea. (Applause.)

Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27th and 28th in Vietnam. (Applause.)

Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela — (applause) — and its new President, Juan Guaidó. (Applause.)

We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom, and we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime, whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair. (Applause.)

Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.


THE PRESIDENT: America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control. (Applause.) We are born free and we will stay free. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: One of the most complex set of challenges we face, and have for many years, is in the Middle East. Our approach is based on principled realism, not discredited theories that have failed for decades to yield progress. For this reason, my administration recognized the true capital of Israel, and proudly opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem. (Applause.)

Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives. More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in fighting wars in the Middle East.

As a candidate for President, I loudly pledged a new approach. Great nations do not fight endless wars. (Applause.)

When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria — just two years ago. Today, we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.

Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.

I have also accelerated our negotiations to reach — if possible — a political settlement in Afghanistan. The opposing side is also very happy to be negotiating. Our troops have fought with unmatched valor. And thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict. (Applause.)

In Afghanistan, my administration is holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop’s presence and focus on counterterrorism. And we will indeed focus on counterterrorism.

We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement, but we do know that, after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace. And the other side would like to do the same thing. It’s time. (Applause.)

Above all, friend and foe alike must never doubt this nation’s power and will to defend our people. Eighteen years ago, violent terrorists attacked the USS Cole. And last month, American forces killed one of the leaders of that attack. (Applause.)

We are honored to be joined tonight by Tom Wibberley, whose son, Navy Seaman Craig Wibberley, was one of the 17 sailors we tragically lost. Tom, we vow to always remember the heroes of the USS Cole. (Applause.) Thank you, Tom.

My administration has acted decisively to confront the world’s leading state sponsor of terror: the radical regime in Iran. It is a radical regime. They do bad, bad things.

To ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons, I withdrew the United States from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. (Applause.)

And last fall, we put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed by us on a country.

We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants “Death to America” and threatens genocide against the Jewish people. (Applause.) We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed. With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.

Just months ago, 11 Jewish-Americans were viciously murdered in an anti-Semitic attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. SWAT Officer Timothy Matson raced into the gunfire and was shot seven times chasing down the killer. And he was very successful. Timothy has just had his 12th surgery, and he is going in for many more. But he made the trip to be here with us tonight. Officer Matson, please. (Applause.) Thank you. We are forever grateful. Thank you very much.

Tonight, we are also joined by Pittsburgh survivor, Judah Samet. He arrived at the synagogue as the massacre began. But not only did Judah narrowly escape death last fall, more than seven decades ago, he narrowly survived the Nazi concentration camps. Today is Judah’s 81st birthday. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: (Sings “Happy Birthday.”) (Applause.)

MR. SAMET: Thank you!

THE PRESIDENT: They wouldn’t do that for me, Judah. (Laughter.)

Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly, the train screeched to a very strong halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the absolute worst. Then, his father cried out with joy, “It’s the Americans! It’s the Americans!” (Applause.) Thank you.

A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. “To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.” They came down from Heaven.

I began this evening by honoring three soldiers who fought on D-Day in the Second World War. One of them was Herman Zeitchik. But there is more to Herman’s story. A year after he stormed the beaches of Normandy, Herman was one of the American soldiers who helped liberate Dachau. (Applause.) He was one of the Americans who helped rescue Joshua from that hell on Earth.

Almost 75 years later, Herman and Joshua are both together in the gallery tonight, seated side-by-side, here in the home of American freedom. Herman and Joshua, your presence this evening is very much appreciated. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.

When American soldiers set out beneath the dark skies over the English Channel in the early hours of D-Day, 1944, they were just young men of 18 and 19, hurtling on fragile landing craft toward the most momentous battle in the history of war.

They did not know if they would survive the hour. They did not know if they would grow old. But they knew that America had to prevail. Their cause was this nation and generations yet unborn.

Why did they do it? They did it for America. They did it for us.

Everything that has come since — our triumph over communism, our giant leaps of science and discovery, our unrivaled progress towards equality and justice — all of it is possible thanks to the blood and tears and courage and vision of the Americans who came before.

Think of this Capitol. Think of this very Chamber, where lawmakers before you voted to end slavery, to build the railroads and the highways, and defeat fascism, to secure civil rights, and to face down evil empires.

Here tonight, we have legislators from across this magnificent republic. You have come from the rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii; from the snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona; from the green farms of Kentucky and the golden beaches of California. Together, we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history.

What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?

I ask the men and women of this Congress: Look at the opportunities before us. Our most thrilling achievements are still ahead. Our most exciting journeys still await. Our biggest victories are still to come. We have not yet begun to dream.

We must choose whether we are defined by our differences or whether we dare to transcend them.

We must choose whether we squander our great inheritance or whether we proudly declare that we are Americans.

We do the incredible. We defy the impossible. We conquer the unknown.

This is the time to reignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit and set our sights on the brightest star. This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.

This is our future, our fate, and our choice to make. I am asking you to choose greatness.

No matter the trials we face, no matter the challenges to come, we must go forward together.

We must keep America first in our hearts. We must keep freedom alive in our souls. And we must always keep faith in America’s destiny that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise, and the light and the glory, among all the nations of the world.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

END 10:29 P.M. EST


Good evening, my fellow Americans. I’m Stacey Abrams, and I am honored to join the conversation about the state of our union. Growing up, my family went back and forth between lower middle class and working poor.

Yet, even when they came home weary and bone-tired, my parents found a way to show us all who we could be. My librarian mother taught us to love learning. My father, a shipyard worker, put in overtime and extra shifts; and they made sure we volunteered to help others. Later, they both became United Methodist ministers, an expression of the faith that guides us.

These were our family values - faith, service, education and responsibility.

Now, we only had one car, so sometimes my dad had to hitchhike and walk long stretches during the 30-mile trip home from the shipyards. One rainy night, Mom got worried. We piled in the car and went out looking for him — and eventually found Dad making his way along the road, soaked and shivering in his shirtsleeves. When he got in the car, Mom asked if he’d left his coat at work. He explained he’d given it to a homeless man he’d met on the highway. When we asked why he’d given away his only jacket, Dad turned to us and said, “I knew when I left that man, he’d still be alone. But I could give him my coat, because I knew you were coming for me.”

Our power and strength as Americans lives in our hard work and our belief in more. My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible. But we do not succeed alone - in these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us. Our first responders will come for us.

It is this mantra - this uncommon grace of community - that has driven me to become an attorney, a small business owner, a writer, and most recently, the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia. My reason for running for governor was simple: I love our country and its promise of opportunity for all, and I stand here tonight because I hold fast to my father’s credo - together, we are coming for America, for a better America.

Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn’t received a paycheck in weeks. Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values.

For seven years, I led the Democratic Party in the Georgia House of Representatives. I didn’t always agree with the Republican Speaker or Governor, but I understood that our constituents didn’t care about our political parties - they cared about their lives. So, when we had to negotiate criminal justice reform or transportation or foster care improvements, the leaders of our state didn’t shut down - we came together. And we kept our word.

It should be no different in our nation’s capital. We may come from different sides of the political aisle; but, our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable.

Our most urgent work is to realize Americans’ dreams of today and tomorrow. To carve a path to independence and prosperity that can last a lifetime. Children deserve an excellent education from cradle to career. We owe them safe schools and the highest standards, regardless of ZIP code.

Yet this White House responds timidly while first graders practice active shooter drills and the price of higher education grows ever steeper. From now on, our leaders must be willing to tackle gun safety measures and the crippling effect of educational loans; to support educators and invest what is necessary to unleash the power of America’s greatest minds.

In Georgia and around the country, people are striving for a middle class where a salary truly equals economic security. But instead, families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it. Under the current administration, far too many hard-working Americans are falling behind, living paycheck to paycheck, most without labor unions to protect them from even worse harm.

The Republican tax bill rigged the system against working people. Rather than bringing back jobs, plants are closing, layoffs are looming and wages struggle to keep pace with the actual cost of living.

We owe more to the millions of everyday folks who keep our economy running: like truck drivers forced to buy their own rigs, farmers caught in a trade war, small business owners in search of capital, and domestic workers serving without labor protections. Women and men who could thrive if only they had the support and freedom to do so.

We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st century immigration plan, but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart. Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders. President Reagan understood this. President Obama understood this. Americans understand this. And Democrats stand ready to effectively secure our ports and borders. But we must all embrace that from agriculture to health care to entrepreneurship, America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants - not walls.

Rather than suing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, as Republican Attorneys General have, our leaders must protect the progress we’ve made and commit to expanding health care and lowering costs for everyone.

My father has battled prostate cancer for years. To help cover the costs, I found myself sinking deeper into debt - because while you can defer some payments, you can’t defer cancer treatment. In this great nation, Americans are skipping blood pressure pills, forced to choose between buying medicine or paying rent. Maternal mortality rates show that mothers, especially black mothers, risk death to give birth. And in 14 states, including my home state where a majority want it, our leaders refuse to expand Medicaid, which could save rural hospitals, economies, and lives.

We can do so much more: take action on climate change. Defend individual liberties with fair-minded judges. But none of these ambitions are possible without the bedrock guarantee of our right to vote. Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.

While I acknowledged the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia - I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote. That’s why I started a nonpartisan organization called Fair Fight to advocate for voting rights.

This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country. We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a “power grab.” Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders - not where politicians pick their voters.

In this time of division and crisis, we must come together and stand for, and with, one another. America has stumbled time and again on its quest towards justice and equality; but with each generation, we have revisited our fundamental truths, and where we falter, we make amends.

We fought Jim Crow with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, yet we continue to confront racism from our past and in our present - which is why we must hold everyone from the very highest offices to our own families accountable for racist words and deeds - and call racism what it is. Wrong.

America achieved a measure of reproductive justice in Roe v. Wade, but we must never forget it is immoral to allow politicians to harm women and families to advance a political agenda. We affirmed marriage equality, and yet, the LGBTQ community remains under attack.

So even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems - I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.

Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment - to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are - and when we do so, never wavering —- the state of our union will always be strong.

Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America.

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