OPINION: State of the Union: unity through fear

Photo courtesy of DW | Copy Editor Ryan Kambich criticizes President Trump’s State of the Union address.

Prior to last week’s State of the Union address, White House aides declared that President Donald Trump’s speech would seek to unify the nation and heal many of the wounds that have been festering since 2016. By most accounts, the first half of President Trump’s address spoke to these themes as he touted the recent economic upturn and called on those watching to find common ground. The president communicated these themes and a laundry list of policy proposals that, while scarce on details, sought to bridge some of the divides in Congress without flailing attacks on those members of the legislative and judicial branches who have periodically opposed him.

Trump stuck to the teleprompter, paused often for applause (though bizarrely chose to join in applauding himself) and refrained from blindly lashing out at the media, special prosecutor Robert Mueller or anyone else for that matter—aspects of a State of the Union that would be considered a basic level of decorum and professionalism for any other president, but have been made a point of celebration for the low bar his unique brand of factless bully politics has created. On the whole, Trump did a passable job at paying lip service to the idea of unity his aides had initially promised.

That facade cracked and crumbled right around 9:48 p.m. EST, when President Trump made clear exactly how he hoped to foster unity. At that moment, the State of the Union took a turn down a dark rabbit hole of bigotry and nationalist rage. It became once again clear that, for President Trump, unity will only come through fear and the project of unification will only be complete when the American people embrace his factless brand of rage.

At that moment in the address, Trump and his lackeys decided to pull a cheap punch. Just minutes after declaring, “There has never been a better moment to start living the American dream,” the president of the United States declared that open borders (a deceitful misnomer) have “tragically caused the loss of many innocent lives.” He then introduced four parents sitting in the gallery who had lost their two daughters in 2016 to a double murder in which the suspects are believed to be illegal immigrants and members of the MS-13 gang.

This isolated tragedy served as a springboard from which Trump moved into his list of policy initiatives on immigration reform, which he went on to call a “down the middle compromise” (it’s not). But beyond the policy debate, the moment reveals much more about his administration’s take on unity. The rhetorical move, to flirt with tragedy in an inflaming attempt to spur national retribution against illegal immigrants living peacefully and productively in our country, is sickening.

Let us, as the Trump administration has done so often in the last year, set a few facts aside. Let’s set aside the fact that numerous studies, including research from the right-wing Cato Institute have found that illegal immigrants are far less likely than citizens to commit crimes, one-fifth as likely by some accounts. Let’s also set aside the 30,000 or so Americans who are killed every year from gun violence, a majority of those deaths coming from the use of legal firearms by fully legal American citizens. Let’s also set aside the $7 billion immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy each year, roughly 14 percent of output as well as their civic, artistic and cultural contributions to our shared public life.

In the vacuum created by ignoring truths such as these, President Trump’s fear mongering attempt to inspire national unity in opposition to our robust immigrant communities may make sense. Unfortunately for the political sideshow we saw during the State of the Union address, reality and facts are very real, and policy needs to reflect the reality of the American circumstance.

While my heart breaks for the Rodriguez-Cuevas and Alvarado-Mickens families and the terrible tragedy they must now live with after the loss of their daughters, the political game employed in attempting to spark national outrage and fuel a public backlash against our immigrant communities is a disturbing visualization of Trumpian unification: unity through fear.

Ryan Kambich is a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major. He is a staff writer for the Newswire from Deerfield, Ill.