A Breakdown and Summary of the State of the Union Address

What follows is my attempt to understand the State of the Union address in hopes of understanding the priorities of the President and his party. In this post, I’m purely seeking to understand what was said.

If you aren’t interested in reading my full breakdown of the speech, you can scroll to the bottom of this post to the section entitled “A SIMPLE SUMMARY.” There I give a summary of what the President said as briefly as possible.

Full disclosure. I didn’t watch the State of the Union. Rather, after it was over, I took the transcript and broken it down like I would with any nonfiction text I wanted to digest. To analyze the text:

  • I read it through from start to finish.
  • I broke it into sections.
  • I removed personal anecdotes (because while they are persuasively effective, they are not helpful).
  • I then analyzed and summarized the content of each section.
  • Finally, I pulled back to look at the speech as a whole.

I’ve avoided listening to or reading any commentary on the speech so I can focus on the speech itself.

Below I will outline the speech and then take each section of the speech one at a time. Again, my intention is to cut through the rhetoric in hopes of understanding the content, not to pass judgment on the content.

Looking at the speech in this way was helpful for me. I hope you find it helpful too.

 

THE OUTLINE OF THE SPEECH

The main focus of the speech was “rediscovering the American Way.” The speech was focused on challenging elected officials and the electorate to join the President in this rediscovery.

The speech is divided into five sections:

  • A Challenge to the Audience
  • A Presentation of Evidence that Proves the Government is Capable
  • A Declaration of the American Way/American Dream
  • The Ten Point Plan to Rediscover the American Way
  • The Conclusion

PART ONE – A CHALLENGE TO THE AUDIENCE

After a basic introduction was given in which the President reviewed important moments in 2017, he offered a challenge to the audience:

But it is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy. Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.

Here is how the challenge breaks down:

  • The “audience” he is referring to are elected officials.
  • He is calling them to put aside their differences and work together.
  • He wants them to find unity in order to “deliver.”
  • While he does not specify what it is he wants to deliver in the challenge, the rest of the speech makes it clear that they are to deliver “the American way of life.”

In summary, the President called elected officials from both parties to put aside their differences in order to give the people that elected them “the American way of life.”

 

PART TWO – A PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE THAT PROVES THE GOVERNMENT IS CAPABLE

Part two of the President’s speech began with the statement:

So let us begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our Union is strong because our people are strong. And together, we are building a safe, strong, and proud America.

After issuing a challenge to elected officials, in section two of the speech, the President offered evidence that he and the elected officials he challenged are worthy of people’s trust.

The President offered five pieces of evidence:

  1. New jobs have been created and wages are rising after years of stagnation.
  2. Small business confidence is at an all-time high.
  3. The stock market is breaking records.
  4. They have passed tax cuts and reformed tax law, which Americans will feel the benefit of in 2019.
  5. The individual mandate element of Obamacare was repealed.

The President’s assertion was that what the government has accomplished under his leadership in 2017 should inspire the electorate to embrace the “American Way.”

 

PART THREE – A DEFINITION OF THE AMERICAN WAY

After presenting his evidence, the President offered a definition of “the American Way.”

So to every citizen watching at home tonight — no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.

There is an unspoken assumption throughout the speech that this American Way was possible before, has been lost, and will be made possible again through the President’s actions.

This definition is a pivotal moment in the speech. From this point forward, the President will lay out his plan to “rediscover” this way of life.

 

PART FOUR – THE TEN POINT PLAN TO REDISCOVER THE AMERICAN WAY

In the speech’s fourth section, the President lays out his plan to rediscover the American Way.

Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of Nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family. We all share the same home, the same heart, the same destiny, and the same great American flag. Together, we are rediscovering the American way.

In this introduction to this section, the President asserts that this rediscovery:

  • a by-product of the American Way is the unity of the American people,
  • this rediscovery is a journey we are already on and will continue in 2018.

As I mentioned above, the speech assumes that the American Way existed before and has been lost.

The President then went on to provide ten areas of focus he believes will rediscover the American Way.

A. Returning to our roots of faith and family by embracing

  • law enforcement,
  • the military
  • and patriotism

In America, we know that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life. Our motto is “in God we trust.” …

And we celebrate our police, our military, and our amazing veterans as heroes who deserve our total and unwavering support…

Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

B. Restoring trust in government by

  • appointing federal judges,
  • defending the right to own a firearm,
  • and providing improved health care for veterans. 

For the last year, we have sought to restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their Government…

Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country…

We are defending our Second Amendment, and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty…

And we are serving our brave veterans, including giving our veterans choice in their healthcare decisions.

C. Holding government accountable by

  • giving Cabinet Secretaries the power to fire federal employees,
  • and eliminating government regulations to reinvigorate businesses (like “clean coal” and the auto industry). 

All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.

In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.

We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

In Detroit, I halted Government mandates that crippled America’s autoworkers — so we can get the Motor City revving its engines once again.

D. Increasing access to and the affordability of prescription drugs.

People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the “right to try.”

One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my Administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.

E. Improving international trade.

The era of economic surrender is over. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones.

F. Rebuilding infrastructure.

As we rebuild our industries, it is also time to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure…

I am asking both parties to come together to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve…

Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.

G. Increasing employment.

We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love.

H. Improving prisoner rehabilitation.

As America regains its strength, this opportunity must be extended to all citizens. That is why this year we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.

I. Helping struggling and immigrant communities by strengthening immigration laws through

  • closing legal loopholes,
  • prioritizing impoverished American citizens above global poverty,
  • moving to a “merit-based” approach that offers citizenship to immigrants that can earn it, 
  • strengthing security at the border by building a wall,
  • and ending chain migration.

Struggling communities, especially immigrant communities, will also be helped by immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families…

Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country. We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again…

The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers, and America’s forgotten communities. I want our youth to grow up to achieve great things. I want our poor to have their chance to rise…

The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States…

The second pillar fully secures the border. That means building a wall on the Southern border…

The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people…

The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration…

 

At this point in the speech, the President took an aside to speak briefly to the current opioid crisis. He stated the crisis would be addressed by addressing immigration, and that he is committed to ending the crisis.

These reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction.

J. Demonstrating strength and power internationally by

  • increasing funds to the military,
  • rebuilding our nuclear arsenal,
  • continuing to fight terrorist groups,
  • maintaining Guantanamo Bay,
  • clearly defining our allies and adversaries,

As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad.

Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.

For this reason, I am asking the Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military. As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression.

So today, I am keeping another promise. I just signed an order directing Secretary Mattis to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.

That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends. As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries.

 

PART FIVE – RESTATING THE AMERICAN WAY

To conclude the speech, the President gave a restatement of the American Way that he defined in Part Three of the speech. As shown above, the American Way is the ability of citizens to create their own “destiny” through hard work and achievement.

It was that same yearning for freedom that nearly 250 years ago gave birth to a special place called America. It was a small cluster of colonies caught between a great ocean and a vast wilderness. But it was home to an incredible people with a revolutionary idea: that they could rule themselves. That they could chart their own destiny. And that, together, they could light up the world. That is what our country has always been about. That is what Americans have always stood for, always strived for, and always done.

 

A SIMPLIFIED SUMMARY

After breaking the entire speech down, here is a combined summary of the President’s vision for the country moving forward:

The President called elected officials from both parties to put aside their differences in order to give the people that elected them “the American way of life.”

The President then offered five pieces of evidence that prove he and the government are capable of rediscovering the American Way.

  1. New jobs have been created and wages are rising after years of stagnation.
  2. Small business confidence is at an all-time high.
  3. The stock market is breaking records.
  4. They have passed tax cuts and reformed tax law, which Americans will feel the benefit of in 2019.
  5. The individual mandate element of Obamacare was repealed.

The President then defined the American Way he intends to discover. He said that regardless of a person’s history or socio-economic status, through hard work and patriotism, you can create whatever future you desire. The unspoken assumption is that this American Way was possible before, has been lost, and will be made possible again through the President’s actions.

The president then laid out a ten point plan that he believes will help the American people rediscover the American Way:

  1. Return to our roots of faith and family by embracing law enforcement, the military, and patriotism.
  2. Restore trust in government by appointing federal judges, defending the right to own a firearm, and providing improved health care for veterans.
  3. Hold government accountable by giving Cabinet Secretaries the right to fire federal employees and reinvigorating industries by eliminating government regulations.
  4. Increase access to and the affordability of prescription drugs.
  5. Improve international trade.
  6. Rebuild infrastructure.
  7. Increase employment.
  8. Improve prisoner rehabilitation.
  9. Help struggling and immigrant communities by strengthening immigration laws and enforcement,
  10. Demonstrate strength and power internationally by increasing the military, rebuilding our nuclear arsenal, continuing the fight against terrorists, maintaining Guantanamo Bay, and labeling our allies and adversaries.

The President concluded his speech by reaffirming his definition of the American Way.

I hope this summary has been helpful. As I said, I did my best to keep this post free of my own thoughts. I will likely write about my feelings concerning the President’s vision in the coming days.

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