President Trump's first State of the Union address was quintessentially Trump. He called for bipartisanship and unification while attacking previous administrations and current proposals by Democrats. He openly challenged foreign governments and hinted at continued U.S. involvement in armed conflicts. The speech was cheered by Republicans in the House chamber while booed in places by Democrats. This was peak Trump and spoke to his base. Financial markets will applaud the reiteration of trillions in infrastructure and defense spending as well as his touting of the "greatest tax cut in American history."
Trump began by boasting about America's role in the world, saying, "The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world." Yet he made clear where his focus would be, "But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities."
This was one of several lines in which he hinted at compassion and reiterated isolationism. He went on beginning with bipartisanship, "...I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed." He followed this up with a typical "America first," line and finished with a dog whistle to his alt-right followers: "My duty...is to defend Americans -- to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too."
While Trump has rarely proposed to treat all Americans equally, his mention of the "Dreamers" and dismissal of them and their plight in the same breath sets to the tone for impending immigration legislation. Trump will agree to granting a process for immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. as minors as part of the DACA legislation but will refuse similar relief to a broader group of immigrants known as "Dreamers" who also came to the U.S. as minors. The first group is around 800,000 people whereas the second is thought to be around 3 million.
Trump framed the immigration debate by signaling out gang violence caused by said immigrant groups, mentioning by name "MS-13" several times. He also proposed rescinding the visa lottery program and mentioned "chain migration" as a threat. Democrats booed in response to the "chain migration" line, a typical GOP talking point.
From a economic stand point, immigrants to the United States are a net gain. Illegal immigrants surprisingly contribute the most taxes yet receive virtually no federal assistance. Several billion dollars in social security taxes are collected every year from illegal immigrants with no chance of collecting benefits.
Trump also mentioned the opioid epidemic, which is a far greater threat to the U.S. Economy than immigration.
Trump went on to put foreign countries on notice in several areas. He threatened those countries that receive U.S. assistance but who did not vote to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital at the United Nations with suspension of aid.
He also mentioned Russia and China, characterizing them in the same sentence as terrorists and calling them rivals" : "...we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values...we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense." With that nod to increased military spending, defense contractors should get a boost in financial markets for the foreseeable future.
Trump added that the prison base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be kept open to house enemy combatants. With only a handful of prisoners left at half a billion dollars in cost every year, the hint here is that a new war might be around the corner.
His long and specific introduction to Seung-ho, a North Korean, who converted to Christianity and was tortured by North Korean officials, both speaks to his base of evangelicals and to saber-raddlers who want armed conflict with Pyongyang.
From Trump's first State of the Union we can confidently say, the next three years will be more of the same. At least one new armed conflict should be expected and a partial agreement on immigration appears to be in the works. Should the democrats do well in November, Trump may have a more difficult time as president, however, in the interim he may be able to enact much of his agenda.