On Tuesday, February 5, US President Donald Trump delivered the annual State of the Union address to the Congress.
The address is to “give the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend their consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”. In the past, these speeches have focused on budgets and overall economy reports. However, in 1913, Woodrow Wilson changed its purpose by presenting his goals to the Congress and asking for support.
Besides members of the Congress, Supreme Court justices and President’s special invitees can attend, as well.
Initially, Trump was to deliver the address on January 29; however, a standoff with Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, delayed it till Tuesday. In a letter to Trump, Pelosi said, “Sadly, given the security concerns … I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date for this address after government has re-opened; or for you to consider delivering your address in writing to the Congress on January 29.”
Why India should care
On February 1, the US formally announced it was “suspending its obligations” under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. The US and the USSR had signed the treaty in 1987. It banned both countries from deploying short and medium range missiles of 1,000 to 5,000 kilometres.
Referring to his withdrawal, Trump said, “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.”
Trump did not directly mention India’s involvement; however, if such a treaty is formally proposed, it could include India. Included in India’s arsenal are Prithvi and Agni class missiles that “fall under the ambit of such a treaty”. However, Pakistan’s Babu, Shaheen, and Ghauri missiles do too.
Trump also asked the Congress to support the Reciprocal Trade Act. He said, “If another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the same tariff on a product they sell us.”
On employment and job creation
Trump said the state of the union, or nation, is strong. He mentioned a 5.3 million increase in jobs and 600,000 increase in manufacturing jobs. “Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded,” he said.
However, we must keep in mind that progress cannot be measured in terms of economic growth alone. While employment may be on the rise, to make an accurate claim about holistic development of any nation, one must also factor in the quality of jobs and job satisfaction.
Immigration and crime
Referring to his commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson, a first-time non-violent drug offender, Trump said her case “underscores the disparities and unfairness that can exist in criminal sentencing, and the need to remedy this injustice”. He also discussed the First Step Act aimed at giving non-violent offenders “the chance to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens.”
On immigration, he spoke in a harsher manner. He said, “Thousands of Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border … including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.”
He also spoke about his pet proposal of building a border wall. “My administration has sent the Congress a common sense proposal to end the crisis at our 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 people in this room voted for a wall, but it was never built. I’ll get it built,” he said.
“This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier, and not just a simple concrete wall. It will be in areas border agents identify as in the greatest need.”
However, Al Jazeera reports that irregular immigration—with false documentation or through unauthorised ports—is the lowest it’s been in the last 20 years. It also says the drugs Trump mentioned are usually smuggled through official ports of entry, not across the border.
In what sounded like a snide remark to Democrats in the audience, he said US’ economic progress will be hampered by “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations”. Trump was referring to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Democrats’ efforts to look into his personal finances.
Trump also said the US will encourage North Korea to disarm its nuclear weapons over a two-day summit in Vietnam on February 27 and 28. “As part of a bold new diplomacy, we continue our historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “Had I not been elected President, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea, with potentially millions of people killed.”
He also reiterated support for Venezuela’s new interim President Juan Guaido and condemned the “brutality of the Maduro regime” and its socialist policies. In the same vein, Trump expressed concern for the domestic “calls to adopt socialism”. He said the US would “never be a socialist country”.
He boldly recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and voiced pride at the controversial establishment of a US embassy there. Mentioning the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, he said, “Great nations don’t fight endless wars.” He added that his administration was negotiating with the Afghan government and Taliban to “reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism” but provided no timeline for an agreement.
Reactions to Trump’s address
Speaker Pelosi, praised for her “hardline negotiating during the shutdown”, was wearing white along with other female Democrats. It’s to make a political statement, as suffragettes in the 20th century used to sport the colour.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer also criticised Trump on healthcare and economic issues. He said, “The president will say the state of the union is strong, but the American people know the state of the Trump administration is chaos.”
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.