Trump calls for end to ’revenge’ politics at State of Union

Update: February, 06/2019 - 10:00
US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Tuesday. — AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged Americans to come together on Tuesday in a State of the Union speech seeking to turn the page on two years of divisive turmoil and transform him into a bipartisan national leader.

But opposition Democrats almost instantly rejected the overture, while Trump’s steadfast insistence on building US-Mexico border walls promised new political strife in the near future.

At times joking, at times impassioned, Trump told Congress and a huge television audience that "we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution -- and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good."

On foreign policy, Trump reaffirmed his determination to get US troops out of Afghanistan and Syria as quickly as possible.

Trump touted what he hopes will remain his strongest card with voters -- "the hottest economy anywhere in the world." He also called for a bipartisan push to eradicate the AIDS epidemic in the United States in a decade.

But the key aim in the speech, littered with soaring rhetoric and interrupted continuously by applause from the Republicans, was to announce a new, more inclusive presidential tone ahead of Trump’s 2020 reelection bid.

The problem is that in two years of his administration Trump has driven an already polarized country into bitter, even violent debate over almost every aspect of politics.

The divide was stark from the moment Trump entered the House of Representatives chamber, with Republicans scrumming to shake his hands, but most Democrats keeping out of the way.

And the moment Trump swung onto his favorite topic of building a wall on the Mexican border to stop an "onslaught" of illegal immigrants, Democrats angrily shook their heads. A decision by Democrat women to wear white, in honor of the early 20th century suffragette movement, was seen as a visual rebuke of Trump.

After the speech, Senior House Democrat Steny Hoyer declared that Trump "leaned on falsehoods and fear to obscure the reality of a presidency lacking in leadership and harmful to America’s future."

‘Get it built’

The president’s single-minded drive -- and failure -- to get congressional funding for that wall is at the heart of the political dysfunction his speech claimed to be trying to resolve.

Democrats say that Trump’s warnings about illegal immigrant murderers amount to political fearmongering and they refuse to authorize the money.

The resulting standoff has turned what might have been a relatively minor funding debate into an existential test of political strength in the buildup to 2020.

In December, Trump took revenge on Congress by triggering a crippling five-week partial shutdown of government. Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was seated behind Trump for the State of the Union, exacted her own reprisal by forcing the speech to be delayed by a week.

Things could soon escalate, with Trump threatening to renew the shutdown or declare a national emergency so that he can bypass Congress and give himself power to take military funds for his project."I will get it built," he said firmly, to cheers from Republicans and silence from Democrats.

Trump’s claims to foreign policy successes are not necessarily endorsed even in his own party.

He repeated in the speech that he wants US troops to pull out from long-running wars, such as Afghanistan and Syria as soon as possible.

"Constructive" talks with the Taliban guerrillas have "accelerated," he said in an notably upbeat assessment.

There were cheers but the withdrawal promises have been criticized by some in the security services and many Republicans, who fear a loss of American influence on the world stage.

US-N. Korea summit to be held in Việt Nam

President Trump announced that his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be held in Việt Nam on February 27-28.

The date and venue had been shrouded in secrecy as the two countries negotiated the next steps after their historic first summit in Singapore in June.

"Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one," Trump said during his State of the Union address.

"Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Việt Nam," he said, stopping short of revealing the city.

China ’theft’ of US jobs and wealth must end

President Trump told Congress that Washington’s aggressive trade negotiations with Beijing would mean an end to China’s alleged "theft" of US jobs and wealth.

In his State of the Union address, Trump also called on China to make the kind of far-reaching "structural" changes to industrial policy that analysts say Beijing is likely to resist.

The world’s two largest economies have 24 days left in a three-month truce in their trade war before US duty rates are due to rise sharply -- an escalation that economists say could be a powerful negative shock to the global economy.

"We are now making it clear to China that after years of targeting our industries, and stealing our intellectual property, the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end," Trump said in his annual State of the Union address.

Any agreement with Beijing "must include real, structural change to end unfair trade practices," Trump said.

Last week, top US and Chinese officials proclaimed progress and comity after two days of talks in Washington, but they disclosed few details.

Washington and Beijing have slapped punishing tariffs on more than $360 billion in two-way trade, which has weighed on the two countries’ manufacturing sectors and sent jitters through global markets.

The US trade deficit has swelled more than 18 per cent since Trump took office, rising far faster than economic growth, and has hit record heights with China in particular.

The president also renewed his often-repeated falsehood that China was paying the US import duties on its exports.

"Our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars a month from a country that never gave us a dime," Trump said.

In fact, such duties are paid by US importers, with costs in many cases passed on to consumers.

Trump also lauded signs of US economic strength, including robust job creation and falling unemployment.

"We are considered far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world," Trump said.

"Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in over half a century."The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the US economy will slow this year and the year after that as the effects of 2017’s sweeping tax overhaul fade.

‘Paper over’ reality

Trump’s speech began by recalling US triumphs in World War II and space exploration.

It ended with an oratorical flourish, declaring "this is the time to reignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit and to set our sights on the brightest star."

But it was clear that political foes in Washington were not persuaded.

"It will take more than a speech to paper over President Trump’s consistent view that the only obligation he has is to his political base," Democratic Senator Michael Bennet tweeted.

Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat congressman, said that Trump’s speechwriters could not change the reality of the current White House. "The centerpiece of this speech was fear about a phony border crisis. There’s no path forward to avoid more chaos," he said.

"It is less important how Trump reads a teleprompter one night of the year than the other 364 days of Twitter-fueled mayhem that threaten our union." — AFP/YONHAP