President Trump’s State of the Union pageant last night made a powerful impact on me. The White House has posted the text of the speech here. If a speech can help President Trump, this one should help for the moment. The speech ran for an hour and 20 minutes, but it can be read quickly. It was extraordinarily well done.
According to the CBS News poll on the speech, viewers approved. According to CNN’s instant poll, the speech drew the least positive reaction of any such speech in 20 years. We report, you decide. John Hinderaker is with the viewers as surveyed by CBS.
Watching the Trump cabinet enter the House chamber, we saw what amounts on average to a conservative dream team. They have done much to advance the policies that have already improved the economy at home and confronted reality abroad. The Trump administration has accomplishments to talk up at the end of year one and President Trump put some of them at the top of his speech.
Attorney General Sessions and Secretary of State Tillerson is each in his own way an outlier in this respect. President Trump’s disapproval of his own attorney general reminds us of the relentless effort to have the president removed from office without the benefit of an election. Democrats can’t wait. The attorney general should be a key player in related matters. Something’s gotta give.
Secretary Tillerson seems a throwback to the likes of William Rogers in the Nixon administration. The real foreign policy work of the administration was to be done elsewhere. This seems to be the case now as well.
Speaking of Democrats, I found the broadcast gave us frequent shots from different angles of the Democrats comprehensively rejecting all things Trump. They frowned. They sat on their hands. they hissed. The speech briefly hit a few themes that don’t ring my chimes — lowering drug prices, promoting “fair trade,” enacting a family leave entitlement, undertaking an infrastructure program, regularizing “Dreamers” — on which Democrats should be able to find common ground with Trump. I don’t support these themes or proposals, but they serve the Democrats’ interests.
The Democrats, however, have staked their future on resistance to Trump. That is where the Democrats are, that is where their supporters are, that is where their media adjunct is, that is where the heart of the party is. The Democrats are all in on identity politics in every jot and tittle, right down to supporting resistance to standing for the national anthem because, well, because Trump supports it.
If their hearts are full of hate, as indeed they are, this is one case in which I completely support reciprocal trade.
The speech was long on heroes in the crowd. They made the speech a memorable and emotional event. They constituted the heart of the speech. They also served the thematic purposes of the speech.
Why were these stories so powerful? The speech skillfully knit the heroes’ stories to policies advocated by the Trump administration.
The first year of the Trump administration has been marked by the natural disasters with which it has had to contend. President Trump focused on the heroism manifested in the face of disaster: “Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.” President Trump also paid tribute to the faceless heroes in our midst: “We saw strangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip.”
First up was Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, a rescuer in the case of Hurricane Harvey: “Through 18 hours of wind and rain, Ashlee braved live power lines and deep water, to help save more than 40 lives.”
Next came firefighter David Dahlberg. “He is here with us too. David faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp threatened by wildfires.”
President Trump dubbed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise “the legend from Louisiana.” He survived the crazed Bernie bro who sought to massacre House Republicans. “With us tonight is one of the toughest people ever to serve in this House — a guy who took a bullet, almost died, and was back to work three and a half months later: the legend from Louisiana, Congressman Steve Scalise.”
Scalise survived through his own mettle but also through the heroism of first responders who went unnamed last night: “We are incredibly grateful for the heroic efforts of the Capitol Police Officers, the Alexandria Police, and the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who saved his life, and the lives of many others in this room.” It was a powerful moment.
Then Trump turned to talking up the effects of the tax reform enacted at the end of last year. He saluted an Ohio family business and previously unemployed welder: “Here tonight are Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger of Staub Manufacturing — a small business in Ohio. They have just finished the best year in their 20-year history. Because of tax reform, they are handing out raises, hiring an additional 14 people, and expanding into the building next door.”
Corey Adams illustrated the frequently derided “trickle down” effect: “One of Staub’s employees, Corey Adams, is also with us tonight. Corey is an all-American worker. He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession, and was later hired by Staub, where he trained to become a welder. Like many hardworking Americans, Corey plans to invest his tax‑cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ education.”
President Trump introduced the youngest of his heroes with the acknowledgement that “we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support.” The war on cops has ended for the duration of the Trump administration.
President Trump turned to “Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed that veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided to change that, and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes.” Preston sets an example: “Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans.”
President Trump took up the costs of illegal immigration that has fostered the growth of gangs and their drug trade. Here he presented a case study he had drawn on during the campaign: “Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th Birthday, neither of them came home. These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑- and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.”
His point — and he did have one — was this: “Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.’ Good luck, Mr. President.
Democrats have their “Dreamers.” President Trump noted: “Americans are dreamers too.”
One more hero illustrated the problem of illegal immigration: “Here tonight is one leader in the effort to defend our country: Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez — he goes by CJ. CJ served 15 years in the Air Force before becoming an ICE agent and spending the last 15 years fighting gang violence and getting dangerous criminals off our streets. At one point, MS-13 leaders ordered CJ’s murder. But he did not cave to threats or fear. Last May, he commanded an operation to track down gang members on Long Island. His team has arrested nearly 400, including more than 220 from MS-13. CJ: Great work. Now let us get the Congress to send you some reinforcements.”
President Trump prefaced the incredible story of the Holets family with the observation that “the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America.” The Holets family is in a league of its own here: “We see a vivid expression of this truth in the story of the Holets family of New Mexico. Ryan Holets is 27 years old, and an officer with the Albuquerque Police Department. He is here tonight with his wife Rebecca. Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin. When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she did not know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.”
What happened next? “In that moment, Ryan said he felt God speak to him: You will do it — because you can.’ He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then, he went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope.”
President Trump returned to martial valor: “Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck is here tonight. Near Raqqa last November, Justin and his comrade, Chief Petty Officer Kenton Stacy, were on a mission to clear buildings that ISIS had rigged with explosives so that civilians could return to the city. Clearing the second floor of a vital hospital, Kenton Stacy was severely wounded by an explosion. Immediately, Justin bounded into the booby-trapped building and found Kenton in bad shape. He applied pressure to the wound and inserted a tube to reopen an airway. He then performed CPR for 20 straight minutes during the ground transport and maintained artificial respiration through 2 hours of emergency surgery.”
Justin Peck’s martial valor supported our military success: “Kenton Stacy would have died if not for Justin’s selfless love for a fellow warrior. Tonight, Kenton is recovering in Texas. Raqqa is liberated. And Justin is wearing his new Bronze Star, with a ‘V’ for ‘Valor.’ Staff Sergeant Peck: All of America salutes you.”
The North Korean miasma accounted for the final two stories. President Trump first told the story of the lonesome death of Otto Warmbier as he pointed out his parents: Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia. On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea. At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state. After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death. He passed away just days after his return. Otto’s Parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta. You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.”
His concluding story presented the almost unbelievable case of “one more witness to the ominous nature of this regime. His name is Mr. Ji Seong-ho.”
His story: “In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs. He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth. Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free.”
President Trump drew what struck me as a Reaganite and/or Bushian point from the story: “Seong-ho’s story is a testament to the yearning of every human soul to live in freedom.” If you haven’t seen this excerpt, please take two minutes to watch it (video below).
President Trump then brought it all back home with a tribute to American freedom. He didn’t say it, but I will. It is in better condition at the end of Trump year one than at the end of Obama year eight.