Ethics and Democracy

The True State of Our Union Under Trump


At 9 PM EST on January 30, 2018, Donald Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address. Here’s what you’ll see: after being introduced by the Sergeant at Arms, Trump will slowly make his way to the podium, shaking the hands of his biggest Republican sycophants along the way. Then he’ll speak for roughly 60 minutes, pausing at different points to identify a few special guests — usually a military spouse or veteran, or possibly a victim of a violent crime that he’ll use to justify his Administration’s attacks against immigrants and Muslims, and most likely someone who he’ll claim has benefited in some way from the GOP Tax Scam. Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will nod approvingly throughout, and Republicans will stand and clap periodically in what is a basically a carefully choreographed charade. But that’s all it is — a charade.

Facts will be nowhere to be found during Trump’s speech. If you’re hoping for an honest and factual assessment of the state of our union, you won’t get it by watching Trump’s speech. As with any Trump speech, it will mainly consist of a series of lies intended to hide a basic truth about Trump’s first year in office: it was a disaster and he remains historically unpopular.

This document is intended to give a true account of Trump’s first year, and provide critical context on how the “accomplishments” Trump will highlight have actually set our country back.

Jobs and the economy: A bonanza for the wealthy

What he’ll say: Trump will attempt to paint his first year as the beginning of a new economic golden age for Americans, with rising wages, falling unemployment, and the return of jobs from abroad fueling a resurgence in growth. He will credit the passage of the Trump Tax Scam and his slashing of regulations for this alleged boom period.

What’s actually happening: Trump’s economic record demonstrates that his economic focus in his first year has been on enriching himself, corporate interests, and the ultrawealthy at the expense of working- and middle-class families and the future of our planet. The major building blocks of the Trump economy are that:

Inequality is worse than ever. In 2017 in the United States, the three wealthiest people controlled as much wealth as the bottom half of the population and CEOs at America’s largest firms earned 271 times more than the average worker. This extreme concentration of wealth and income primarily benefits white men, while making the path to economic security more challenging for families of color. This problem will only be exacerbated by the effects of the Trump Tax Scam, which even Trump acknowledges benefits the wealthy and corporations at the expense of middle-class families. (That’s probably why the Koch brothers donated $500,000 to Paul Ryan after the bill passed, and why they plan to spend $400 million to change people’s minds about the Tax Scam and prop up Republicans in the 2018 elections.)

Trump is looting our future. In the name of reducing regulations, Trump and his enablers have rolled back measures that were intended to protect children from dangerous pesticides, keep our air clean from “major” sources of pollution, and transition us from coal to cleaner sources of power. He also pulled us out of the Paris Agreement, a decision which puts the planet at greater risk of catastrophic climate change. These short-sighted moves benefit entrenched interests at the expense of everyone else.

Immigration: Terrorizing immigrant families

What he’ll say: Trump will make the case for his newly released immigration plan. He’ll claim that he wants permanent relief for Dreamers and that he’s willing to work with Congress to make sure that happens. He’ll say that this should be paired with reforms to our immigration system that will stop the flow of drugs along the southern border, prevent terrorists from entering our country, and that will attract more highly educated and skilled immigrants. He’ll demand that Congress fund his $25 billion wall as a condition for permanent status for Dreamers.

What’s actually happening: The Trump Administration’s immigration policies are rooted in white supremacy, and immigrant communities continue to be terrorized as a result. The Trump Administration, through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, wants to start separating children from their parents at the border. ICE is detaining parents dropping their kids at school, children who are in the hospital, longtime members of the community, and leading activists. Now, ICE wants to start tracking license plates across the U.S. to track peoples' movements in real time (which is a civil liberties nightmare). Not to mention the fact that the administration ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has placed 800,000 young immigrants in jeopardy.

Trump’s extreme immigration plan serves only to further his nativist agenda. Beyond the unnecessary and wasteful $25 billion wall that no one wants, the plan calls for a dramatic change to our immigration system. It would eliminate the diversity visa program, which is designed to ensure that we bring allow immigrants from diverse backgrounds to come to the U.S. It would create a “family ban,” preventing family unification of immediate family members, including parents and siblings. It would pay for additional immigration officers and immigration officials in order to accelerate deportations. It would allow border agents to quickly remove individuals caught at the border, including unaccompanied children and those with legitimate asylum claims.

The bottom line is that Trump is holding Dreamers hostage in order to advance his nativist agenda. And every day, 122 DACA recipients will continue to lose their protection from deportation, rising to 1,200 a day after March 5.

National Security: The Trump threat level is high

What he’ll say: Trump will double down on his “America First” rhetoric. He’ll talk about the need to “rebuild” the military, and restore the United States’ policy of “peace through strength.” He will talk about drawing clear lines to demarcate our friends from our adversaries, and may talk about the threats posed by North Korea, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria. Finally, he’ll boast about defeating international terrorism around the world.

What’s actually happening: Donald Trump himself is a threat to America’s national security. He is isolating us from our allies by flouting international norms, insulting important partners, reneging on numerous multilateral agreements, threatening to pull out of others, and driving down approval of our leadership to record lows in nearly every other country. He has repeatedly attacked on the news media, which dictators are using as an excuse to crack down violently on the free press in their own countries. He leaked highly classified intelligence to the Russian ambassador in a meeting in the Oval Office, which put the life of a spy in danger and imperiled our intelligence sharing agreement with Israel.

Trump’s xenophobic policies and trigger-happy Twitter finger have made us all more unsafe. He regularly increases the risk of conflict with North Korea by provoking Kim Jong Un on Twitter. Instead of investing in multi-tactical solutions that responsibly prevent and end conflicts, he has ramped up a “military only” approach across the globe, racking up civilian casualties and causing devastation. He hasn’t sought the necessary congressional authorization for any of these expanded military campaigns, including America’s participation in the Yemen civil war, the presence of troops in African countries and a potentially new, endless war in Syria. That means that America’s expanding global war isn’t just the perfect recruitment tool for violent terror organizations—it’s illegal and unconstitutional.

But perhaps the hallmark of the Trump administration is his relentless, bigoted, anti-Muslim rhetoric and resulting discriminatory policies. From his plan to keep the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay open forever, condemning those detained there to die without charge or fair trial, to his unconstitutional and hate-based Muslim ban, Trump has proven he wants to use “security” as an excuse to target Muslims, but has no interest in confronting the security threat posed by white supremacists.

All of these actions, plus the countless others that we don’t have space to list here, put us directly at risk. They erode our standing and leadership in the world; they cause dedicated public servants to leave the State Department in droves, reducing our diplomatic capacity; they serve as recruitment tools for terror organizations; and they isolate us from our allies, embolden our adversaries, and contribute to the rollback of democratic norms across the globe.

Infrastructure: Selling off public goods

What he’ll say: Trump will try to say that he has a $1.8 trillion infrastructure plan to completely overhaul our nation’s infrastructure. He’ll talk about his commitment to rebuilding roads, bridges, and airports. He’ll say he wants to work with Democrats, and highlight their past support for infrastructure spending.

What’s actually happening: The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is every bit the scam that their tax plan was. Their goal is to use a small amount of federal money to “leverage” states and localities to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in funding, and to provide tax credits for private equity firms and corporations to invest in infrastructure—investments that they would recoup by putting tolls and user fees on existing public assets. This plan already has state and local officials saying that they will be forced to fight, “Hunger Games” style, for limited federal funding.

We need an infrastructure plan that is robust enough so that it actually covers the cost of needed investments; comprehensive enough so that it includes not just roads and bridges but water systems, electric grids, affordable housing, school construction, and public transit; sustainable enough so that it doesn’t destroy the environment in the name of “streamlining”; and equitable enough so communities of color aren’t left on their own to deal with crumbling infrastructure. Based on what we know so far, the Trump infrastructure plan falls short on those measures.

Opioids: An emergency, but no urgency

What he’ll say: Trump will talk about how he issued an emergency declaration to tackle the opioid crisis. He’ll talk a big game about trying to reverse a trend that started under Obama, and highlight the debilitating effect opioids have had on people’s lives.

What’s actually happening: Trump has done nothing to address the opioid crisis. His emergency declaration was an empty promise—he never followed up with the additional funding or resources that people on the ground need to make a difference in stemming the tide.

Trump’s actions make it clear that he has little interest in addressing the opioid crisis. He tried to appoint Representative Tom Marino—the Member of Congress most responsible for kneecapping the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to stop drug companies from flooding the streets with prescription narcotics—to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). When that fell through, the job mostly fell by default to a 24-year-old Trump appointee with an exaggerated résumé but no real experience. And if he had gotten his way and passed TrumpCare, he would have destroyed Medicaid as we know it—cutting off an important way for people with opioid addiction to get treatment. Trump may talk about wanting to reduce opioid use, but in reality every family torn apart by the opioid crisis is just a prop for him to use in his public remarks.