Editorial: Speech by President Trump conveys dim prospects for brighter future

U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address yesterday. Although he toned down his usual aggressive posture, Mr. Trump boastfully recounted his accomplishments in domestic policies over his first year in office, underscoring his inward-looking attitude.

He showed no signs of altering his “America First” policy and stressed his goal of “making America great again.” If the leader of this superpower is obsessed only with protecting his own nation’s interests, the international community, including Japan, should adopt a resolute stance against him.

Mr. Trump was surely delivering his speech with one eye on the mid-term elections that will take place in November. In many cases, the party led by the president has lost seats in mid-term elections. In addition, Mr. Trump’s discriminatory words and deeds have put his approval rating at among the lowest recorded since the end of World War II.

Because the State of the Union address is covered live by most U.S. broadcasters, this makes it a perfect opportunity for the president to appeal to the public. Mr. Trump held out a carrot by proposing a sum of at least $1.5 trillion to improve public and private sector infrastructure, including the rebuilding of roads and railways. This may indicate his own deep concern with his standing.

Mr. Trump referred to a possible U.S. return to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in his speech during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland only a few days ago, but he did not mention this idea in the State of the Union address. Perhaps he thought that bringing up the idea of joining the TPP would weaken the appeal of his contention that unfair trade must be reformed. Will he actually modify his policy of pulling out of the TPP? It is hard to gauge his intentions.

How did the American public receive his address? Republican lawmakers rose to their feet for a number of standing ovations, but Democrats gave him a chilly reception and left the floor without applause as soon as the speech ended. This seemed to symbolize the unprecedented and deepening division now troubling the United States.

One of the biggest reasons for this division is the anti-foreign attitude that Mr. Trump has assumed with regard to immigration policy. Due to strong opposition from Democrats, Congress had difficulty passing a temporary funding bill in January, which forced the government to shut down some of its functions.

Mr. Trump may be aware that a dead-end potentially lies at the end of this path. Showing some willingness to compromise with Democrats, he has proposed reforms for immigration policy. He has said in his State of the Union address that his government would offer a path to citizenship for so-called “Dreamers,” illegal immigrants who were brought into the United States by their parents at a young age. But, at the same time, he remains strident on his plan to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. It is unclear if his proposals will be accepted by the public.

In his State of the Union address, Mr. Trump called for "all of us, together, one team, one people, and one American family" to work together. But unless he practices what he preaches, this message will not reach the ears of the American people. People are continuing to hold demonstrations to protest his racist and sexist remarks. Mr. Trump must stop tweeting incendiary remarks.

While he spent much of the time speaking about domestic politics, he made use of muscle-flexing words in limited references to international policies. He said that the United States is “waging a campaign of maximum pressure” on North Korea. He also said that the United State must modernize its nuclear arsenal, a comment that stirs foreboding.

Mr. Trump also intimated that the United States will withdraw its support to countries that oppose the U.S. decision to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is far from the sort of example that the leader of the world’s predominant superpower should set.

It now seems so long ago that U.S. presidents of the past used their State of the Union address to share a vision of the role that the United States should play in the international community. Mr. Trump’s inward-looking policies will not advance us toward the brighter future we all seek.

(Originally published on February 1, 2018)