In State of the Union, Trump hails ‘American comeback’ amid domestic storm

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi tears up a copy of the State of the Union address that US President Donald J. Trump just delivered in front of the floor of the US House of Representatives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 04 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/MICHAEL REYNOLDS]

With the impeachment shadow still over his head, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (4 February) painted a self-congratulatory rosy image of the US economy. Here are four takeaway from Trump’s State of the Union.

Speaking in the same chamber where he was impeached less than three months ago, the US President sought to pose as a leader in full control of his foreign policy and largely avoided the subject of the Democrats’ attempt to remove him from office.

Trump becomes third US President to be impeached

Donald Trump on Wednesday (18 December) became the third US president to be impeached as the House of Representatives formally charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in a historic step that will inflame partisan tensions across a deeply divided America.

Trump’s one hour and 18 minutes address to Congress came a day before the Senate is set to hold the final vote in the impeachment trial, which is expected to acquit the President on Wednesday.

Dress code 

Several left-wing Democrats boycotted Trump’s speech, among them Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, the so-called “squad” of freshmen US lawmakers.

For the third year in a row, Democratic congresswomen wore white in honour of the suffragette movement that got women the right to vote in 1920, while a group of two dozen US lawmakers wore purple to symbolise bipartisanship following months of impeachment drama.

Just ahead of the speech, a new Gallup poll had revealed an 84-point gap between Republican and Democratic approval of Trump.

Trump’s last national address before the 2020 presidential election was marked by moments of tension with Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom bitter feelings have existed throughout his term and have intensified during the impeachment case.

While Trump appeared to snub her welcome handshake, Pelosi vigorously shredded a copy of the president’s remarks. She later told reporters the gesture was “the courteous thing to do”.

2020 Election talk

Trump’s address bore the overall theme of “great American comeback”, placing domestic before foreign affairs, touting economic achievements he claimed have restored the nation’s standing.
The US President presented himself as the antidote of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, claiming he had bolstered US economic growth and increased jobs.

“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American Decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny. We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable and we are never going back,” Trump said.

But according to economists, Trump’s positive reading on economy is largely exaggerated. Job growth under Obama in his final years was about where it has been under Trump and economic growth with a modest 2.3% last year fell short of the promised 3%.

Trump touted his controversial “America First” message, which some consider xenophobic, while at the same time trying to appeal to African American voters and independents.

He also revived his arguments that migrants should be stopped from crossing the southern US border and that so-called “sanctuary cities” where migrants are protected are wrong.

“The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens,” he added.

Trump did not deliver much criticism of any potential Democrat rival, but did lash out against a “socialist takeover of our health care system,” an implicit rebuke of Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who emerged in a strong position from the messy Iowa caucuses.

The US President, however, offered little about his would-be agenda for a second term.

Foreign policy pitches

During his three years in office, much of Trump’s agenda had been about reversing Obama’s policies on foreign policy, trade and environmental regulations.

In 2012, Obama made the most of the raid that killed al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden. In a similar way, Trump trumpeted the airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport in January.

US kills top Iranian commander Soleimani in air strike

The United States killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force and architect of Iran’s spreading military influence in the Middle East, in an air strike on Friday (3 December) at Baghdad airport, the Pentagon and Iran …

The strike however brought the West close to open conflict with Iran and largely alienated Europeans by leaving them to cope with the fallout of the crisis as well as the preservation of the shaky Iran nuclear deal from which the US administration withdrew in 2018.

Trump once again called upon Tehran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons and suggested Iran’s leaders were “too proud or too foolish” to accept US demands.

“While protecting American lives, we are working to end America’s wars in the Middle East,” he pledged, while adding that in the fight against Daesh, more than 20,000 square miles of IS-held territory had been “100% destroyed.”

Contrary to expectations, Trump did not highlight his newly unveiled Middle East peace plan as an accomplishment, which initially was intended to draw votes from domestic Jewish and evangelical audiences, despite growing international condemnation.

The EU earlier on Tuesday had rejected parts of the proposed US plan, saying it broke with “internationally agreed parameters”, and that any Israeli annexation of Palestinian land would be subject to challenge.

Instead, Trump saluted surprise guest Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader, whose presence was said to be largely domestically motivated. Before, Trump had used incumbent President Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan conflict to stoke fears of socialism and more progressive agendas of Democratic opponents.

Over a year ago, Washington was first to recognize Guaidó as interim president after he declared Maduro’s election illegitimate. In an effort to force Maduro out, Washington exerted economic pressure via sanctions.

“Maduro is an illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalises his people,” Trump said. “Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó.”

“Socialism destroys nations,” Trump said. “But always remember, freedom unifies the soul.”

In his remarks, Trump also made a reference to his role in boosting US military might.

“Our military is completely rebuilt, with its power unmatched anywhere in the world, and it is not even close,” he said, stressing that the US had invested a record-breaking 2.2 trillion in its military and created the Space Force, the newest branch of the US military.

But although Trump succeeded in boosting military spending during his term, defence analysts acknowledged the temporary funding measures cutting short of ambitions.

Shortly after taking office, Trump had attacked European NATO members fair failing to “pay their fair share” to the military alliance, when many fell short of 2% GDP spending goals. At the 2019 NATO meeting in London, Trump boasted he had forced other nations to spend a greater share of their economic output on military obligations.

“I have raised contributions from other NATO members by over $400 billion and the number of allies meeting the minimum obligations has more than doubled,” he repeated on Tuesday.

Trade war latest

Trump touted the new trade deals with China and the updated trade agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico (USMCA), which replaces the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by claiming he had ended “unfair trade”.

The US President especially referred to the “groundbreaking new agreement” struck with Beijing, where the imposition of hefty tariffs on China, resulting in a nearly two-year long US-China trade war, has paid off.

US, China set to sign massive purchases deal, easing trade war

The US-China trade war is set to enter a new, quieter phase on Wednesday (15 January) as US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier sign an initial trade deal that aims to vastly increase Chinese purchases of US manufactured products, agricultural goods, energy and services.

“Days ago, we signed a groundbreaking new agreement with China that will defend our workers, protect our intellectual property, bring billions of dollars into our treasury, and open vast new markets for products made and grown here in the US,” he said.

“For decades, China has taken advantage of the US. Now, we have changed that,” he added.

But although the phase-one did help calm relations between Washington and Beijing, it so far did not address the core reasons of the trade war itself – Beijing’s industrial policies or state subsidies.

While US tariffs still remain in place on some $360 billion of Chinese goods, Trump also declined to elaborate on the next steps on China trade talks or the upcoming EU-US trade deal.

Fresh from calling a trade truce with China, he recently threatened to impose crippling tariffs on European autos unless the EU budges on a transatlantic deal.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.