As Donald Trump settled into the themes of his State of the Union address, he issued a strange warning that bordered on a threat.
“If there is going to be peace and legislation,” he said, “there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.”
The line seemed out of place, because not only has Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged several Trump campaign operatives in his investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump also faces the prospect of a hostile Democratic House of Representatives whose committees are poised to investigate everything from Russian conspiracies to Trump’s tax returns.
The president knows that, so he used the State of the Union speech, which typically focuses on unity, to warn political adversaries that investigations are tantamount to war. Then he tied the passage of legislation to that threat.
It felt small and petty. It felt wildly inappropriate. It belied Trump’s claim that, “Millions of our fellow citizens are watching us now gathered in this great chamber, hoping that we will govern not as two parties, but as one nation.”
In truth, Trump did not seem interested in uniting the two parties. He seemed bent on driving a wedge between them.
But Trump’s attempt to separate America politically was nothing compared to his attempt to split us racially.
Just as he did in his first State of the Union address, Trump used Tuesday’s speech to highlight grieving families whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants.
He didn’t speak at length about the dozens of mass murders carried out by American citizens. He focused intensely on portraying undocumented immigrants as the primary source of crime.
And that’s the problem. In Trump’s mind, undocumented immigrants are always bent on engaging in wanton violence against Americans. But that’s not true.
Undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than American citizens. Trump knows this, and yet, he keeps trying to convince us that undocumented immigrants are the greatest threat we face. Again, that’s a lie, and Trump knows it.
But for Trump, the path to victory is lined with stories of bloodthirsty immigrants. In Trump’s mind, the path to victory is lined with the tears of grieving families. In Trump’s mind, it seems that the country is not the priority.
For Trump, the priority appears to be his own political fate. That’s why, instead of preserving the union, he puts barriers between us. He turns us against one another. And when he doesn’t get his way, he shuts the government down.
So when the president stands in front of the country and says the thing we need most is a wall, it should give us pause, because we don’t need more division. We need more unity.
I was glad when Trump talked about the things that should unite us — like the First Step Act, which begins the process of reforming America’s racially biased criminal justice system. I was glad when he talked about the growing economy, which started under President Obama. I was glad when he talked about more women in the workplace, and factories reopening in the heartland.
I only wish Trump had acknowledged that none of those things happened because we built walls. I wish he had underscored that our greatest victories come from building bridges.
If America is to survive as a country, if we are to have a union that’s strong, we need a president who understands the need for more bridges.
America can no longer hide behind walls.
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