So much for “reaching out,” eh? Donald Trump delivered his first official State of the Union address last night — last year’s speech was technically not a SOTU — and nearly set a record for its length at 80 minutes. Like all SOTUs, Trump combined self-congratulation and a laundry list of issues, laying out the direction in which he plans to lead in 2018. But on two major policy areas, immigration and defense, Trump set the context in such stark terms that it sends a clear signal that the White House plans to play hardball rather than bargain broadly, as I wrote in my analysis at The Week:
On immigration, Trump played an even tougher version of hardball. Prior to the speech, many expected to hear a theme of conciliation, an effort to reach across the aisle to solve the debate over how to handle DREAMers — undocumented immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Instead, Trump went the opposite direction. He spoke of the threat of gangs crossing the border, the scourge of the opioid-addiction epidemic, and the dangers for Border Patrol and ICE personnel dealing with an insecure border.
Again, Trump had guests on hand to underscore his point. He introduced two families whose daughters had been murdered by members of the Central American gang MS-13, a major talking point for border hawks. “These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown,” Trump explained while the parents wept in the gallery. “Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders.” Afterward, he introduced a Homeland Security investigator whose task force has rounded up hundreds of illegal immigrant gang members to emphasize the ongoing nature of the threat. “Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals gangs, to break into our country,” Trump declared.
Then, he flipped the script on the use of the word “DREAMers” for DACA recipients. “The sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans,” Trump intoned, “to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.”
That line will undoubtedly resonate, especially given the way that the “dreamers” label has been lifted by the media from the Democratic Party’s public-relations campaign. It was almost certainly the most memorable of the applause lines in the speech, and clearly a shot across the bow toward Democrats and the media. Trump wants a solution on DACA, but he’s not going to willingly fight on the cultural battleground that they have shaped.
Trump’s opponents took offense to the repeated invocations of MS-13, objecting to the focus on gangsters in the discussion of immigration. This morning, though, Sen. Marco Rubio pushed back against that argument, telling CBS’ Gayle King that while not all immigrants are MS-13, they are a real threat — and prey largely on the immigrants the media wants to shield from enforcement:
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) January 31, 2018
Rubio makes an even better point, albeit perhaps accidentally, with his reference to the Mafia and Italian-Americans. It was the refusal of law enforcement agencies (most prominently the FBI) to believe that the Mafia existed that allowed it to grow. Only after the raid on Apalachin in 1957 forced the FBI and lawmakers to take the Mafia seriously did they start doing real damage to its organization.
In that case, the silence about the Mafia had less to do with avoiding insult to Italian-Americans than in protecting the FBI’s reputation, especially J. Edgar Hoover’s, but the lesson is still the same. Politically-correct silence not only allows the problem to fester and grow, it ends up victimizing the very people the silence was allegedly trying to protect.
Trump got elected in part because of his attacks on that kind of political correctness. The media may not like it, but that’s precisely why “Americans are dreamers too” will resonate far longer than the rest of the SOTU speech last night.