I did not watch this year's State of the Union address. In fact, I have never watched a State of the Union address. I always wait to read the transcript afterwards instead. I have found that reading a transcript of a speech allows me to focus on the actual content of the speech without the distraction of the speaker's theatrics. And when I read this year's State of the Union address from Donald Trump, I found that this practice of separating content from theatrics gave me a fairly unique perspective of a speech that many of my friends were describing as the greatest State of the Union address they've ever heard.
I did not find this year's address to be all that impressive. In fact, I found it to be a rather tiring barrage of lies and socialistic philosophy, but when I tried to explain that, I found that a brief explanation was not sufficient. And thus, this article was born. In the next ten pages worth of writing, I'll attempt to present an actual conservative response to most of the claims that Trump made in his address.
Claim: “The unemployment rate is the lowest in over half a century.”
True but misleading. The unemployment rate under Trump’s administration is the lowest that it has been since 1969, but Trump can’t really take much credit for that. Since reaching a high of 9.9% in 2009, the unemployment rate has fallen at an average of 0.6% per year. The most that Trump can claim is a continuation of a ten year trend, but even that would not be entirely accurate.
In the six years prior to Trump’s administration, the unemployment rate fell at an average of 0.8% per year while the average decrease during Trump’s administration was only 0.4%. This indicates that the trend of dropping unemployment rates is slowing down rather than improving during Trump’s administration.
What does all of this tell us about Trump’s economic policy? Very little. The President doesn’t really have much control over the unemployment rates of the nation. Trump has simply come in at the tail end of a historic period of economic expansion which may be tapering off.
Claim: “And very incredibly, the average unemployment rate under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country.”
False. Trump followed this claim with an insistence that it was true. He probably did so because he knew that there were people listening who suspected that it was a lie. And any of those people who took the time to look up a chart of unemployment rates would find that the President was lying again just as they suspected. Since 1929, there have actually been 8 years in which the unemployment rate has fallen to or below the 3.5% that it reached in 2019. Trump lied, again.
Claim: “After decades of flat and falling incomes, wages are rising fast.”
False. We have not experienced decades of flat and falling incomes. According to the Atlanta Fed’s Wage Growth Tracker which is based on the Current Population Survey by the Census Bureau, wages have been steadily rising since January of 2010. Once again, Trump is simply taking credit for a trend that began long before he came to office, and once again, he is lying about the history of that trend in order to make himself look better.
Claim: “Real median household income is now at the highest level ever recorded.”
True but misleading. Census Bureau data shows that the real median household income in the US for 2018 was a little over $63,000 which is the highest amount recorded. However, there are three facts about this data which Trump conveniently left out of his speech. First, the chart shows that the current trend of increasing incomes began during the Obama administration in 2012. Second, the chart also shows that the trend began to plateau during Trump’s administration. Third, the Census Bureau made a change in 2011 to the way that it calculates real median household income, and they warn against using their data to compare results from the years prior to that change to results from the years after that change. Thus, while Trump’s claim was true, it was also a bit deceptive.
Claim: “Since my election, U.S. stock markets have soared 70 percent.”
True but misleading. The data that Trump is using to make this claim comes from the NASDAQ Composite. Between January of 2017 and January of 2020, the NASDAQ Composite value increased by 70%. However, that is not anything remarkable since the same chart shows an increase of 110% during Obama’s second term. Once again, looking at the actual data shows that Trump is simply riding out a ten year economic expansion which is showing signs of tapering off.
Claim: “All of those millions of people with 401(k)s and pensions are doing far better than they have ever done before with increases of 60, 70, 80, 90 and 100 percent, and even more.”
False. As we just saw, the stock market performed better during Obama’s second term than it has so far during Trump’s first term. This does not mean that Obama deserves the credit for the current trends any more than Trump does. The occupant of the White House doesn’t have nearly as much influence over the stock market as they all claim to have.
Claim: “Jobs and investments are pouring into 9,000 previously neglected neighborhoods thanks to Opportunity zones a plan spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott as part of our great Republican tax cuts.”
Socialism. I’m not even going to bother fact checking this one because it is pure unadulterated socialism. Trump is essentially claiming that he is a better socialist than any president before him.
Claim: “Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world, by far.”
True but misleading. It is true that America is now the world’s largest producer of oil, and it’s true that Trump has repealed some of the regulations that were slowing down America’s production growth, but it’s not certain how much credit Trump can claim for the results. According to the EIA, American oil production has been steadily increasing since 2009 with only a slight slump in 2016. Most of that increase has been the result of improved technology in drilling and fracking along with a fortuitous market change as global oil prices began to drop in 2014. America was well poised to take advantage of this drop, and Congress passed a law in 2015 repealing a 40 year ban on exporting crude oil. This launched America into the global market at the same time that the OPEC were struggling. Once again, Trump can only claim to have continued a trend.
Claim: “After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration”
True but misleading. The manufacturing growth during the Trump administration is partly the result of his tariffs which artificially prop up American manufacturers by making foreign imports more expensive. The problem with this model is that it causes prices to rise for the end consumer.
If, for example, you choose to buy a Chinese made products because they are cheaper than their American made competition, then Trump’s plan for expanding American manufacturing by increasing the prices for Chinese products will mean that you have to pay more for your items than you used to pay for them. Sure, you may now be buying American made products, but you are doing so at a net loss.
Instead of raising the cost of foreign products, it would be far better to lower the cost of American products so much that foreign companies are unable to compete. This would require a massive roll back of the regulations that American labor unions have lobbied for over the past century. Trump’s tariffs have produced some short term benefits in the manufacturing sector, but in the long run, those benefits will be offset by inflation.
Claim: “Six days ago, I replaced NAFTA and signed the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement into law. The U.S.M.C.A. will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs, and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers, and factory workers.”
Maybe true but definitely misleading. From what I’ve read of the USMCA, it attempts to accomplish Trump’s goal of increased American production through an increase in tariffs and tariff requirements. The end result of this might be more jobs (or more automation), but it will definitely cause prices to rise. The CBO estimates that the USMCA will cost the automotive industry an additional $3 billion dollars over the next decade, and all of that cost will be passed on to the consumer in the form of increased prices.
Claim: “This is the first major trade deal in many years to earn the strong backing of America’s labor unions.”
True but misleading. The labor unions did not support Trump’s version of the USMCA. They only threw in their support after the agreement was modified to their liking by Nancy Pelosi. Trump is once again taking credit for something that he did not do.
Claim: “I also promised our citizens that I would impose tariffs to confront China’s massive theft of America’s jobs. Our strategy has worked.”
True but misleading. This is another example of Trump using tariffs to artificially prop up the American manufacturing industry. The reason that the jobs went to China in the first place is that American consumers did not want to pay the increasing costs of products made in America. Placing tariffs on foreign made products does nothing to address that cause. It’s just an attempt to treat the symptom by telling the American people that they have no choice but to pay more than they want to pay for the products that they buy. The end result of this type of tariff war is always inflation.
Claim: “Members of Congress, we must never forget that the only victories that matter in Washington are victories that deliver for the American people … our job is to put America first.”
False. This has proven to be one of Trump’s most dangerous lies because it has been so readily believed among his conservative base. It is reminiscent of several of the 25 points of the National Socialist (NAZI) Program. For instance, the NAZIs claimed that “Whoever has no citizenship… must be under the authority of legislation of foreigners.” They further claimed that
“We demand that the state be charged first with providing the opportunity for a livelihood and way of life for the citizens. If it is impossible to sustain the total population of the State, then the members of foreign nations are to be expelled from the Reich.”
The idea that the government has a moral duty to put its own citizens first is one of the fundamental flaws inherent in some of the worst governing policies in history. In contrast, the government exemplified in the Bible placed both citizens and non-citizens on an equal plane. God repeatedly commanded that Israel treat both citizens and non-citizens the same under the law.
"One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you." (Exod. 12:49)
"One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the stranger that sojourneth with you, an ordinance for ever in your generations: as ye are, so shall the stranger be before the LORD. One law and one manner shall be for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you." (Num. 15:15-16)
Additionally, God placed a very high priority on keeping treaty obligations – even when those treaties were bad treaties. The Bible tells us in Joshua 9 that Israel signed a treaty with the Gibeonites because the Gibeonites lied to them by claiming to be from a distant country instead of from a country that God had told Israel to destroy. This was a bad treaty on several levels, but God still required Israel to honor it. In fact, God was so insistent that Israel honor their treaty with the lying, deceitful Gibeonites that He punished Israel with a three year famine when Saul broke that treaty (II Sam 21). The famine did not end until David renewed the treaty that Saul had broken.
Trump’s form of nationalism is completely contrary to Scripture, and every country that has embraced that level of nationalism has suffered as a result.
Claim: “The next step forward in building an inclusive society is making sure that every young American gets a great education and the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”
Socialism. The idea that the federal government should guarantee a free education for all American children is pure socialism. It’s one of the primary reasons that you have to pay so much in taxes. The government is taking money away from you in order to give it to someone else under the pretext of improving American society as a whole. That is socialism at its finest, and it should be opposed by all conservatives. America’s schools would perform much better if funded by private contributions instead of government spending since they would then be accountable to a select group of individuals rather than to a monstrously large bureaucracy. The proper conservative attitude to education would be to get the federal government out of the education business entirely.
Claim: “Through our Pledge to American Workers, over 400 companies will also provide new jobs and education opportunities to almost 15 million Americans.”
Socialism. Trump has launched a plan to expand the government’s involvement in education by taking over the fields of skills based education and on the job training. The Pledge to American Workers includes Trump’s Executive Order Establishing the President’s National Council for the American Worker which created a new division of bureaucracy for the purpose of fostering “an environment of lifelong learning and skills-based training, and cultivate a demand-driven approach to workforce development.” This is a massive, unnecessary, and unwanted overreach of the federal government into the business sector.
Trump recognized that his new Council would be viewed negatively by American business owners, and he decided to overcome that hurdle by mandating that the council’s first responsibility would be to “develop a national campaign to raise awareness of matters considered by the Council.” In other words, the first goal of this Council is to spend a lot of money telling American businesses how much they need a National Council for the American Worker.
The second priority of the Council is to:
“develop a plan for recognizing companies that demonstrate excellence in workplace education, training, and re‑training policies and investments, in order to galvanize industries to identify and adopt best practices”
So in addition to spending a lot of money telling American businesses how much they need the help of this new Council, the Council was also authorized by the President to spend your tax money bribing businesses into adopting the recommendations of the Council.
With this executive order, Trump expanded the federal government into the field of workplace education. This is a giant leap in the wrong direction. He has laid the groundwork for future administrations to force businesses to comply with things like mandated sensitivity and diversity training for their employees.
Claim: “Tonight, I ask Congress to support our students and back my plan to offer vocational and technical education in every single high school in America.”
Socialism. Do you remember when everyone was talking about Trump shrinking the Department of Education? The conservatives cheered, and the liberals did what they always do and prophesied that it would bring about the end of the world as we know it. Well, both sides were wrong. Trump is not planning to shrink the Department of Education. He wants to expand it by requiring federally mandated vocational and technical education in every single high school in America. Once again, we find Trump falling in line with the 25 points of the National Socialist Program.
“The state is to be responsible for a fundamental reconstruction of our whole national education program, to enable every capable and industrious German to obtain higher education and subsequently introduction into leading positions.”
Claim: “To expand equal opportunity, I am also proud that we achieved record and permanent funding for our nation’s historically black colleges and universities.”
Socialism. There is nothing equal about equal opportunity. It is purely a socialist concept for taking money from those that the government deems unworthy to possess it and giving that money to people that the government finds to be more worthy of it. I have to pay for the government’s various equal opportunity programs, but as a middle class white male, it is highly unlikely that I would ever be approved for any of the benefits from those programs.
Claim: “We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions … we will always protect your Medicare … We will never let socialism destroy American health care.”
Socialism. Trump’s health care plan is just as socialistic as Obamacare. Even when the Republicans had an opportunity to fully repeal Obamacare, Trump was not in favor of getting the government out of the health care business. His motto has always been “repeal and replace” rather than just repeal. Trump doesn’t want privatized health care, he just wants a government health care system that’s more efficient.
Claim: “I’m calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices.”
Socialism. Trump’s American Patients First plan for reducing drug costs correctly identifies government involvement in the drug market as the source of the problem of high drug costs. However, instead of proposing that the government lower prices by getting out of the health care industry, Trump’s plan makes several proposals on how the government can maintain its socialist role in health care while still making some small improvements in the prices of drugs.
Claim: “With unyielding commitment, we are curbing the opioid epidemic. Drug overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly 30 years.”
True. Drug overdose deaths did decline by 4.1% in 2018 for the first time in many years. I’m not sure what Trump may have done to contribute to that decline, but it did happen during his administration, so good for him. I expected Trump to claim that this decline was a result of his border policies, and I expect most of his supporters to leap to that conclusion. However, the CDC data shows that none of the border states experienced any decline in drug overdose deaths. The decline was mostly along the east coast and around the Great Lakes.
Claim: “We have launched ambitious new initiatives to substantially improve care for Americans with kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, and those struggling with mental health. And because Congress was so good as to fund my request, new cures for childhood cancer.”
Socialism. This is all a continuation of America’s socialized health care system. Improving the care of those who are suffering is a noble cause, but our government is more than $23 TRILLION in debt. We don’t have the funds for these causes. If Trump is so concerned about childhood cancer, why doesn’t he give $500 million of his own money to help cure it instead of putting the entire nation further into debt? He has a net worth of more than $3 billion surely finding a cure for childhood cancer is worth just 17% of his net worth.
Claim: “I’m also calling upon members of Congress here tonight to pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies … every human life is a sacred gift from God.”
Contradiction. If really believes that every human life is a sacred gift from God, then he should be calling for much more than a wimpy little late term abortion ban. For more on this, check out my article “A Question for Trump on Abortion.”
Claim: “I’ve also overseen historic funding increases for high-quality child care, enabling 17 states to help more children.”
More socialism and spending money that we don’t have.
Environment and Infrastructure
Claim: “The United States will join the One Trillion Trees Initiative … invest in new roads, bridges, and tunnels all across our land … ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed Internet.”
More socialism and spending money that we don’t have.
Claim: “The United States of America should be a sanctuary for law-abiding Americans, not criminal aliens.”
False. The United States of America should be, and at one time was, a sanctuary for all who wish to come here in peace not just for American citizens.
Claim: “we are working on legislation to replace our outdated and randomized immigration system with one based on merit, welcoming those who follow the rules, contribute to our economy, support themselves financially, and uphold our values.”
True but wrong. Trump’s plan to establish a merit based immigration system is contrary to the principles of immigration taught in the Bible. God expressly commanded Israel to leave provisions for immigrants who could not support themselves or contribute to the economy. In Lev 19:10 and 23:22, God told the Jews to leave the corners of their fields and portions of their vineyards unharvested so that the poor and the immigrants could have food to eat. This command would not have been necessary if God hadn’t also expected Israel to welcome immigrants who would never have been approved by Trump’s merit based system.
God also explained in Deut 10:18-19 that the reason He wanted Israel to provide for destitute immigrants is that God Himself loves immigrants and provides for them. God is the measure of what is good and right, and if He loves and provides for destitute immigrants, then that is what should be done for them. Anything less is contrary to the nature of God and therefore sinful (Mal 3:5).
Claim: “we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges.”
True but misleading. Trump and his supporters like to point to the quantity of judges that Trump has appointed, but they very seldom say anything about the quality of his appointments. With judges being lifetime appointments, quality is far more important than quantity, and Trump’s ability to appoint quality judges is somewhat suspect. For example, there are a couple of homosexual judges among Trump’s appointees including the highest ranking homosexual judge in history. Considerations like that should have but hasn’t tempered conservative revelry in the sheer number of Trump appointees.
Claim: “This includes two brilliant new Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.”
True but misleading. The appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh have often been touted as evidence of Trump’s conservatism in general of his plan for overturning Roe v. Wade in particular. However, both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are on the record as proclaiming that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and a precedent that must be followed. I expect both judges to lean more conservative than liberal, but I doubt that they’ll prove to be the champions of truth that everyone is expecting them to be.
Claim: “My administration is also defending religious liberty, and that includes the constitutional right to pray in public schools.”
True but misleading. Trump’s “new” policy on prayer in school is the exact same policy that has been in place since 2003. All he did was combine the policy on prayer in school with the policy on religious expression in school into a single policy with his name on it. Nothing was actually changed.
Claim: “So long as I am president, I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
False. Trump has never been strong on the 2nd Amendment. Throughout his presidency, he has waffled back and forth numerous times on whether or not to increase gun control. His most recent flirtation with the idea evaporated as the campaign season began heating up, but it’s not likely that he will stand strong for the right to bear arms in the future when he has been so shaky on that issue in the past.
Claim: “Now we must embrace the next frontier, America’s manifest destiny in the stars.”
Stupid. I doubt that Trump even knows what a manifest destiny is much less which destiny has been made manifest for America.
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)