Since 1983, when Ronald Reagan first used the word “strong” to describe the state of the union, the adjective has become a mindless mainstay of nearly every subsequent address. But while simple, plainspoken descriptions of the direction of our nation are powerful, it also helps if they are true.
For the first time in many years that line can be delivered with confidence. In previous State of the Union’s economic growth was poor, joblessness was rampant, wages were stagnant, and the American Dream was distant.
But as President Trump made clear, things have changed in the past year. Since the election 2.4 million jobs have been created, wages for middle-income workers are going up, unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low, and African American and Hispanic American unemployment have reached the lowest levels in history.
The economy is succeeding not because President Trump and Republicans willed it to be so. Rather, they recognized that with a dose of regulatory freedom, a shot of economic confidence, and a fistful of dollars back in workers’ pockets, Americans would push the economy towards growth.
“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,” Trump told the gathered crowd. “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. So let’s begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our union is strong, because our people are strong.”
If there was one thing that set apart Trump’s State of the Union address it was its focus on the individual and collective strength of Americans.
“If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything,” Trump said. “And together, we can achieve absolutely anything.”
Trump’s speech was powerful because it put a human face on that ideal.
He spoke of Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old Californian who started a movement to place 40,000 flags on unadorned graves, of Special Agent Celestine Martinez who has survived threats on his life to fight back against MS-13, of Staff Sergeant Justin Peck who saved a fellow officer in the war against ISIS, and many more Americans who exemplify the American spirit.
“In America,” Trump proclaimed, “we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.”
Individuals like those mentioned in the street proved the point. We have a government of the people, not a people of the government, and that’s what makes our nation great, the state of our union strong. Unfortunately, for too long internal divisions have weakened the fabric of our nation. Those divisions exist not just along partisan lines, but on regional, class and racial boundaries.
President Trump has always heralded his desire to lift up the forgotten elements of society, who feel left behind by today’s economy and paid only lip service by politicians who claim to represent them. But in the State of the Union, Trump spoke to the whole nation.
“This is, in fact, our new American moment,” he said, adding that “all of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family can do anything.”
“I call on all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people,” he said, adding that he was “extending an open hand to work with members on both parties” on a range of issues, including investment in a “safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs.”
Only by working together toward common ends can we fully harness the strength of our union. Rather than focus on our differences, Trump’s State of the Union was focused on identifying areas of agreement, to highlight his desire to negotiate bipartisan solutions. But there are some things that are non-negotiable, namely that the strength of our society must come by investing in people, not placing undue faith on a bureaucracy.
“The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it’s the people who are making America great again.”