SOTU: A Political and Economic Appraisal

February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020


Yesterday, I reviewed President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union address as a U.S. citizen rather than as a professional economist.

I found it uplifting to be reminded of the many positive developments in our country; encouraging to listen to a leader who understands that the purpose of the U.S. government, as formed by our Constitution, is to stand up for the interests of America and Americans; and so very comforting to listen to a leader so un-self-consciously show his love for our country.

A day later, here’s my more detached, analytical look at this year’s memorable SOTU. More than anything else, President Trump’s SOTU made clear what’s at stake in the 2020 national election. If anyone doubts what Trump’s campaign strategy will be, that person wasn’t paying attention to his address.

I have three principal observations about the political implications of SOTU:

Wooing Voters

First, Trump made it clear that he’ll strive hard to woo some traditional Democratic constituencies, particularly minorities, women, and blue-collar workers.

He appealed to African Americans by citing record-low unemployment among both adult and young African Americans. He praised opportunity zones, having the camera zero in on African American Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has been instrumental in establishing opportunity zones. The president also spotlighted one of his own guests, a black veteran who had overcome many personal problems with the help of the opportunity zone initiative.

Trump also brought an African American mother and her young daughter to SOTU, awarding the girl a scholarship to attend the school of her choice, and vowing to make such financial assistance available to at least a million more children. He also claimed to have procured “record and permanent funding” for historically black colleges and universities.

Two other guests representing African Americans were young Iain Lanphier, who aspires to attend the Air Force Academy and join the newly formed Space Force, and Iain’s 100-year-old great-grandfather, Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen from World War II, who also rendered military service in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. Trump had just promoted McGee to the rank of brigadier general.

It will be fascinating to see if Trump succeeds in peeling away from Democrats a significant percentage of African Americans voters.

Trump also reached out to Hispanics, citing record-low unemployment for them and saluting Chief Border Patrol Agent Raul Ortiz.

He reached out to women, promising family leave, while celebrating that there’s now a record number of women employed, with 72 percent of the new jobs in the past three years being held by women.

He used the SOTU to actively recruit blue-collar workers, enthusing about all the factories springing up around the country and of wages rising smartly, promising that the trade deals he’s crafting favor them, and promising a massive rebuild of the country’s infrastructure.

Stealing Democrats’ Thunder

A second key political aspect of SOTU is that Trump undoubtedly caused great consternation among Democrats by “stealing their thunder” on multiple issues.

He proposed more funding for businesses to train people for jobs, to offer vocational and technical education in every U.S. high school; paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers; initiatives to improve care for Americans suffering from a wide range of afflictions; and planting a trillion trees.

He promised health care for people with pre-existing conditions (but not as part of the misnamed “Affordable” Care Act that has prevented so many Americans from being able to see their doctor of choice). On all these issues, it looks like Trump has gotten out in front of the Democrats.

Now, let me interject a comment here as an economist: We’re already running trillion-dollar deficits, and there’s simply no way that we can afford to adopt even half of this expansive wish list (and go to Mars, too, which the president also proposed). This may be astute politics, but it’s economic folly.

However, there’s no stomach in Washington among either party for shrinking government, and so voters will be limited to choosing from the lesser of two evils—a large boost in federal spending in a second Trump term or a quantum increase in federal spending and domination of economic activity under a hyper-progressive/socialist Democrat.

Clarifying Differences

The third key political aspect of SOTU was how it clarified major differences between the parties. Lest anyone glibly assert that Trump is offering Americans a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum this November, the president boldly dared the Democrats to oppose him on at least the following 10 issues where he and the Dems are diametrically opposed:

  1. Touting the USA’s newly achieved energy independence, Trump envisions the United States continuing to lead the world in energy production, mostly of the fossil-fuel variety.
  2. He bluntly characterized socialism as evil, declaring, “Socialism destroys nations,” while denouncing the socialist dictator of Venezuela, whose constitutional president was another of the president’s honored guests in the gallery.
  3. He called out (not by name) the 132 members of Congress who want to abolish private health care insurance entirely, labeling their goal a “socialist takeover” of our health care system.
  4. He took a firm stand against the same progressive/socialist congresspersons who want American taxpayers to pay for free health care to anyone who succeeds in entering the United States illegally.
  5. He praised the sanctity of life.
  6. He denounced sanctuary cities and pushed for legislation that will allow such jurisdictions to be sued by victims of any illegal aliens they hide.
  7. He proudly praised the confirmation of a record number of federal judges “to uphold our Constitution as written” and promised there’ll be many more.
  8. He affirmed the right to pray in school.
  9. He took on the disarmament crowd, stating that the Second Amendment is every bit as precious as the First.
  10. He made it clear that he wouldn’t appease terrorists, laying down the clear marker, “If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life.”

Love him or hate him, agree with him or virulently oppose him, we can all thank the president for making so clear what is at stake this fall. With the benefit of hindsight, we’ll then know whether President Trump’s 2020 SOTU was a stroke of political genius or whether a majority of Americans reject his vision for our country.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Mark Hendrickson
Mark Hendrickson is an economist who retired from the faculty of Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where he remains fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom. He is the author of several books on topics as varied as American economic history, anonymous characters in the Bible, the wealth inequality issue, and climate change, among others.