Trump's State of the Union was supposed to be optimistic. But that's not how he delivered it

Key Points
  • President Trump had an optimistic speech to deliver for his first State of the Union.
  • But the president delivered the address in a reserved and serious tone, which was effective, but noticeably more subdued than recent presidents' speeches.
  • The official theme of the speech was "a safe, strong and proud America."
President Trump's 1st State of the Union
President Trump's 1st State of the Union

President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his State of the Union address to the nation. The president sought to strike a positive tone and describe a "New American Moment" characterized by prosperity, rebuilding and cooperation.

"There has never been a better time to start living the American dream," Trump said. "I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of nation we are going to be."

On paper, the text of Trump's carefully crafted speech was filled with optimism and energy. But the president delivered the address in a reserved tone, and at times he appeared tired. Earlier in the day, White House officials had told reporters the president's speech would be "positive," and "bright and optimistic."

Delivery notwithstanding, the speech was effective overall on its terms, allowing the president to reiterate many of his core policy positions, to reach across the aisle on certain issues, and to recognize a number of outstanding men and women who were present in the audience.

All told, Trump spoke for an hour and 20 minutes, and he received more than a dozen standing ovations. The official theme of the speech was "a safe, strong and proud America." Trump began the address with a brief victory lap for his newly enacted tax cuts and for the overall strength of the U.S. economy.

"Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker," Trump said.

Trump also promoted his administration's deregulation efforts, which he characterized as part of a broader plan to "restore the bonds of trust between our citizens and their government." These same regulations, according to the president, are also standing in the way of a major infrastructure rebuilding plan.

Trump called on the nation to reclaim "our building heritage," saying: "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."

Here are the most memorable reactions to Trump’s State of the Union address
Here are the most memorable reactions to Trump’s State of the Union address

On the lightning rod topic of immigration, the president's speech contained sentences that emphasized inclusivity and bipartisanship. "Tonight I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color, and creed," Trump said.

Yet the president also took several minutes to describe crimes that had been committed by immigrants, prompting audible frustration from some Democrats in the chamber. Trump also reiterated his insistence on a physical wall on the southern border as part of any DACA deal, which some Democrats have said is a nonstarter for talks.

On trade, however, the president delivered practically the opposite message: "America First" means an end to U.S. participation in large, multilateral treaties and a more robust pushback against unfair trade practices by other nations.

"As we rebuild America's strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad," the president said.

"Last year, I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the Earth. One year later, I'm proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria," Trump said while pledging to "continue our fight until ISIS is defeated."

Trump appeared to save the most urgent national security threat, North Korea, for last. "Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation," Trump said. "I will not repeat the mistakes of the past administrations that got us into this dangerous position."