State of the Union 2018: When will Trump speak, what will he say and does it reflect the true state of America?

The President is expected to talk about the economy and investment - if he sticks to the teleprompter 

Alexandra Wilts
Washington DC
,Andrew Buncombe
Monday 29 January 2018 16:52 GMT
What to expect from Donald Trump's first State of the Union address

When President Donald Trump delivered his first address to US Congress – it was technically not termed a State of the Union speech because he had only been on the job for five weeks.

He largely stuck to the script, claimed his election victory had been a “rebellion” of the people and outraged many by announcing the establishment of a body to help alleged victims of immigrant crime – the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. “We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests,” he said.

Eleven long months later, Mr Trump has been President for a year, believes he has delivered on many of his electoral promises, and considers himself to be a victim of “fake” media coverage and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt” into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

A senior administration official told reporters that when Mr Trump speaks at 9pm EST on Tuesday night, laying out future plans and reflecting on his first year in office, he will be “speaking from the heart”.

That official, who declined to be named, said the President will discuss jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security.

Experts say that with a booming stock market and low unemployment rate that he inherited from his predecessor - and following a recent corporate tax cut that has resulted in a number of firms announcing new hirings, new projects and bonuses - Mr Trump will start by claiming victory for the resilience of the US economy.

“It’s the economy, stupid. He’s got a story to tell,” said Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia, referring to the now legendary advice strategist James Carville offered Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 as he challenged President George HW Bush.

“Most people have no idea how much a president influences the economy, but Trump will take 100 per cent of the credit for the good news – of that we can be sure. It’s all due to business confidence in him, and his tax-cutting, and his regulation-busting.”

He added: “Yes, those are a part of the story, but the economy was in great shape during Obama’s final year. Trump will never admit that. He’ll create a reality that his base will swallow hook, line, and sinker. Trump is ‘making America great again’.”

Donald Trump at Davos: 'America First does not mean America alone'

When Mr Trump spoke a year ago, many of his opponents and Hillary Clinton supporters, still licking their wounds from her surprise defeat, may have doubted he would make it this far. While Mr Trump had not yet fired FBI Director James Comey - a decision that would ultimately lead to the appointment of Mr Mueller – he had got rid of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, after learning he had lied about contact with Russian officials.

Furthermore, questions were already being asked about his campaign advisers’ possible links to Russia, about his refusal to speak out against Vladimir Putin, and the “unpresidential” nature of much of his discourse and actions. In short, many believed it would only be a short time before Republicans turned against him and the House of Representatives started impeachment proceedings.

Yet a year after he took office, Mr Trump appears to be in a much stronger position. While his approval ratings remain at a historic low, his support among his base and Republicans more generally remains solid.

Following his success in getting conservative judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, cracking down on immigration and signing into law the biggest tax-cut for three decades, many Republicans believe he has delivered on a lot of their wishes.

“According to his supporters he’s had several major accomplishments," said Jeanne Zaino, a political scientist at New York’s Iona College.

“The Supreme Court nomination, the tax reform bill, booming economy/Wall St and jobs numbers, and the little discussed but critical roll back of Obama era regulations to an extent that no one expected.”

Officials said that during his speech – which will be shown on major television and cable networks, as well as the White House’s own website – Mr Trump will refer to what he sees as the benefits of reducing the corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.

Mr Trump will also reiterate his commitment to fair and reciprocal trade deals. Just this past week, the President for the first time reopened the door to the possibility of the US rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership – almost exactly a year after he withdrew the country from the landmark 12-nation trade pact.

The administration is also currently negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which Mr Trump has made clear that he can still rip up if the US does not reach what he considers to be a better deal with Canada and Mexico.

The speech, which will get a formal Democratic response from congressman Joe Kennedy, will come a day after the White House is due to deliver its “legislative framework” for an immigration bill to Congress.

It is reported that the plan proposes a path to citizenship for up to 1.8m immigrants who were brought to the US illegally as children – so-called “Dreamers” – while also calling for restrictions on immigration and $25bn (£18bn) for border security. The proposal is likely to face a large amount of opposition from Democrats, some of whom are expected to boycott Mr Trump’s address.

If Mr Trump sticks to the teleprompter, or the speech his aides have hammered out for him, the nation may get few headlines on Tuesday night. But after a year in which racism, immigration, sexual abuse of women and gender inequality have made up much of the public conversation, will Mr Trump dare dive into any of these areas?

Two weeks ago, Mr Trump triggered global outcry when it emerged he had referred to Haiti and African nations as “s***hole” countries.

“If I could have one wish, it would be for him to say he will open the path for immigration, without the need for a wall and without using the Dreamers as political pawns,” said Veronica Arreola, an Illinois-based academic and gender expert.

Professor Terri Givens, an academic focusing on politics and immigration at California’s Menlo College, said she was certain Mr Trump would tout the economy and claim success for it. She said she doubted he would dive into cultural issues.

Yet she said she hoped the President, fresh from his speech in Davos, would say something reassuring to America’s traditional allies, many of which have been left uncertain and anxious by his past remarks – his attacks on Nato, his strident “America First” position and his decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Paris accord on climate change.

Another issue many will be watching for is whether Mr Trump will refer to the ongoing probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. This week it was reported the President last summer had sought to fire Mr Mueller, only to be talked out of it by a White House lawyer.

Mr Trump has dismissed the report as “fake news”. And there remains the possibility that he could use Tuesday night’s speech to take a dig at either the investigation or the media, or both.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon was almost at the end of his State of the Union address when he asked to offer “a personal word” about “the so-called Watergate affair”.

“I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end,” the Republican said, referring to House and Senate investigations into his conduct. “One year of Watergate is enough.”

He declared that he had “no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the people elected me to do”. Mr Nixon resigned seven months later.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in