“What will we do with this moment? How will we be remembered?” Those were two important questions President Donald Trump posed during his State of the Union address as he faces the second half of his presidency, forced to work with a divided Congress.
For the third year in a row, President Trump called for unity and bipartisanship to seize the future and address serious challenges facing our country. He was absolutely correct when he said, “We must choose whether we are defined by our differences – or whether we dare to transcend them.”
Fortunately, there is common ground on so many of the issues he raised Tuesday night: the need to lower prescription drug costs, put more money in the pockets of working Americans, reform the criminal justice system and invest in infrastructure to fix crumbling roads and bridges while putting more Americans back to work.
Democrats are eager to work with the president to address all of those issues, as well as comprehensive immigration reform that secures our borders, smart exit strategies to bring our troops home and energy policy that saves consumers money and strengthens our economy.
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However, if history is any guide, President Trump’s conciliatory tone will be short-lived. Who can forget last year when just a few days after declaring “I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties – Democrats and Republicans – to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion, and creed,” he then accused Democrats of “treason” for not clapping for him during his address. The rest of 2018 devolved from there with childish name-calling, dangerous threats and an historic government shutdown that cost our economy $11 billion.
Americans are right to be hopeful after hearing the president’s call for unity. “Maybe this time they’ll actually get something done,” many will say, only to see the same pattern we’ve lived with for two long years unfold once again. But as President George W. Bush once said, “fool me once…”
In fact, President Trump didn’t even wait until his speech was over to attack Democrats, labeling them as partisans and socialists while attacking their Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities as “ridiculous.” That approach to bipartisanship is the equivalent of inviting someone to dinner and putting a thumbtack on their chair.
It’s not enough to read kind words off a teleprompter. We need the president to demonstrate his desire for unity through action. We need him to understand and respect our system of government, where there are three equal branches of government and that the Framers designed the legislative branch to carry out the will of the people, not bow to the demands of a president.
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If President Trump is sincere about wanting to reach out to and work with Democrats and moderates in his own party, our country could actually live up to our shared aspiration he stated in his address: “This is the time to re-ignite the American imagination. This is the time to search for the tallest summit, and set our sights on the brightest star. This is the time to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.”
Only time will tell if President Trump decides to “choose greatness” or spend another year further dividing our country before next year’s call to “govern not as two parties but as one Nation.”