On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will appear before a joint session of Congress to deliver his first State of the Union Address. The run-up to the State of the Union generally exceeds the main event as the media hypes it for days beforehand. There’s more pre-game commentary than on Super Bowl Sunday.
But when the hall of the House of Representatives opens and the sergeant-at-arms booms, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States,” the eyes of the world turn to a single man and all distractions are put aside.
The president will walk a gauntlet of members of Congress, many of whom arrived hours earlier to grab a seat on the aisle in order to catch a second with the commander in chief and provide a glimpse of themselves and their momentary glory to the folks back at home.
He’ll be greeted by the vice president and the speaker of the House and will stand before both House and Senate members, his cabinet (except the one left behind in case of national emergency), the Supreme Court, Joint Chiefs of Staff and a gallery packed with dignitaries.
All of the trappings of presidential power are on full display and provide a made-for-television backdrop for the president’s speech. The State of the Union Address is always the president’s night and an unchallenged opportunity to shine.
The Constitution requires two things: a report to Congress on the state of the union and recommendations the president wants to make to Congress.
The State of the Union is strong. The economy is soaring, our foreign policy is succeeding and for the first time in years, the “right direction” poll numbers are moving upward.
Trump administration policies are passing the Reagan Test. The country is better off than it was a year ago.
The stock market is closing at record highs on a daily basis, virtually every sector of the economy is growing dramatically and billions of dollars are pouring back into our economy generating tens of thousands of new jobs. Unemployment is at record lows, especially in the minority community, millions of workers are getting big bonuses and just about every working American is seeing a fatter paycheck thanks to the recent tax cuts.
Despite rising consumer confidence and belief, by better than 2-to-1 margins, that things are getting better, President Trump isn’t getting the share of the credit most presidents would get in similar circumstances.
There are several reasons for that, including some self-inflicted language choices, tactics and a media that doesn’t want to give him a break. The State of the Union Address is an opportunity to begin to change that.
There are three specific things he can do.
First, he needs to shine the brightest possible light on the accomplishments of his first year in office.
The media hasn’t hailed many of his positive achievements, including his scaling back of regulatory overreaches of the Obama administration. Those were job-crushing, growth-stifling executive actions, made as an end run of congressional authority. Reversing them helped stimulate the economy and get it growing at rates never seen during the previous eight years.
Donald Trump has never shied from bragging about his successes. The State of the Union is no place to start.
Second, he should build on the successes of the past year by clearly setting forth his legislative priorities and specific proposals to continue fueling economic growth. Look for him to detail his plans to rebuild our roads, bridges and ports and to get comprehensive immigration reform.
He has the opportunity to rally the nation behind his agenda. Using the bully pulpit and appealing directly to the American people in a speech watched by so many is every bit as valuable as daily tweets.
Finally, he can speak to the hopes and aspirations of all Americans and how his vision for our future aligns with theirs. The president is renown for his skills as a pitchman. He needs to put them on full display Tuesday night.
Americans are optimistic even when times are tough. They look for us to be the “shining city on a hill.” They want a future of prosperity and peace. They will rally behind a president who speaks in language that unites us and says that our best days lie ahead.
The specific language of any State of the Union Address is not long remembered. The impressions that it leaves are lasting.
A focus on a thriving economy and what it means to ordinary working Americans to keep more of what they earn, to have stable good-paying jobs and hope for a better tomorrow are the keys.
Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications which has a Maryland office in Annapolis. He can be reached at [email protected].