Op-Ed

‘So, how’d I do with the State of the Union?’

President Trump applauds during his first State of the Union Address.
President Trump applauds during his first State of the Union Address. Getty Images

After President Trump had his say in his first State of the Union Address, everyone else weighed in. Here are excerpts from media commentary:

▪ In pointing to MS-13 to try to scare Americans into harsh new immigration restrictions, Trump is overstating the danger the gang poses here in the United States. Worse, by using the gang to demonize all Latino immigrants, Trump is building inner-city walls that alienate communities and risk making criminal organizations more powerful, both here and overseas.

MS-13 is considered one of the most violent youth gangs in the Western Hemisphere. According to various estimates, more than 30,000 MS-13 gang members are roaming the streets of what’s known as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America, a region made up of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Things are different in the United States. According to Justice Department estimates, MS-13 is a small gang, compared with the Bloods, Crips and Almighty Latin King Nation. The estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States account for less than 1 percent of the estimated 1.4 million total gang members in the country.

And the gang did not come from south of the border. MS-13 is as American-made as Google -- or, for that matter, as Trump. MS-13 was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by children of Salvadoran immigrants who fled a brutal civil war, which was substantially funded by the United States. The early members were teenagers who hung out on street corners and bonded around reefer and rock concerts, not unlike thousands of other kids living in Southern California’s underprivileged communities.

José Miguel Cruz,

Washington Post

▪ Trump’s most detailed comments of the evening — on immigration, an issue crying out for compromise — were hardly an olive branch. Stressing the need for public safety and highlighting victims of violence by illegal immigrants, Trump urged Democrats to accept his latest proposal, which conditions a path to citizenship for so-called DREAMers on drastic cuts in legal immigration and the construction of his silly, wasteful wall.

Not only is this proposal substantively offensive. In defending it, Trump used offensive language — though not as offensive as his infamous comments about not wanting immigrants from certain “shithole” countries — that harked back to his suggestions during the campaign that illegal immigrants were dangerous.

“My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans — to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers too.”

If the president insists on using that sort of language, he will find that his calls for good-faith negotiations will be met with deep and deserved skepticism.

Los Angeles Times

Editorial Board

▪ A president this successful should not be this unpopular.

Stepping up to the lectern of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, Trump had an opportunity to change this dynamic and expand his base, by making the case for his presidency to tens of millions of Americans who support many of his policies but don’t yet support him.

He seized that opportunity. Unlike most presidents, who wait till the end of their address to call out heroes in the gallery, Trump began doing so at the outset. It was a brilliant move. He called out Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who rescued victims of Hurricane Harvey, and beloved Congressman Steve Scalise, R-La., who survived an assassination attempt and returned to work just three and a half months later. Starting with these stories was deeply unifying and cut through the cloud of contempt emanating from the Democratic side of the aisle - forcing everyone in the chamber to rise and applaud.

Marc A. Thiessen,

Washington Post

▪ The real news was not what was in the speech but what was swirling all around it. The aggrieved first lady went to the Capitol in a separate limo, the ship that launched a thousand wagging tongues. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted the speech, not too surprising considering the president’s “shithole countries” slam on Africa or his Charlottesville moral fumble, and other Democrats stayed away, like Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky who told CNN she didn’t want to listen to “a sexual predator.”

And an adult-film star allegedly paid $130,000 not to talk about her affair was Trump was teed up to give a rebuttal on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel.

Did I mention that the State of the Union is not good, not at all? In the hours before the speech, CNN and other news outlets were reporting that Trump may refuse to give Mueller an interview about alleged campaign collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, that he might actually fire Mueller, and that the president is about to release a slanted, classified memo aimed at tarnishing the FBI and taking down Mueller’s probe.

Meanwhile, the White House is refusing to implement a Russia sanctions law that passed Congress nearly unanimously — his latest and most serious dictator move. Sen. Claire McCaskill pegged the moment for what it is: a constitutional crisis. You didn’t hear anything about that constitutional crisis from the flag-draped podium Tuesday night. That would cut way too close to the truth, and we haven’t had that spirit here since 1975.

Will Bunch,

Philadelphia Daily News

▪ In the campaign, Trump promised a new kind of politics, a populist administration that would end corruption in the capital, crack down on Wall Street and deliver for Middle America. Instead, underneath distracting surface spectacles like his trolling on Twitter, he is delivering the most ruthless, conventionally conservative domestic policy in memory.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way he is packing the courts — including the Supreme Court — with far-right justices, taking advantage of the vacancies created by nihilistic Republican filibusters of Obama appointees.

Washington is more paralyzed than ever by partisanship, and as for corruption — well, lobbyists can now do their deals in the bar of the Trump International Hotel.

New York Times

Editorial Board

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