Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

State of the Union 2018

Well done, Mr. President

Last night, Donald Trump gave his State of the Union address. As one of the most divisive Presidents of modern history, President Trump faced a pivotal moment where he had the opportunity to speak directly to the lawmakers and citizens across the country who have been highly critical of his policies.

Reading from a teleprompter, President Trump gave a speech that should have appealed to the moral foundations of both liberals and conservatives. Graham, Haidt, and Nosek (2009) showed evidence that liberals emphasize the moral foundations of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity, while conservatives emphasize those as well as ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. As we witnessed throughout the 2016 election and his 2017 term of service, liberals and conservatives have very different scorecards for evaluating what is important. One group evaluates narrowly, the other more broadly and inclusive of the same points as the other. In his State of the Union address, President Trump made a strong effort to speak to both scorecards. That does not mean that he changed any attitudes towards him, but at least he spoke the language for both scorecards.

For anyone paying attention who wasn’t blinded by rage at the fact that Donald Trump is Donald Trump (I got over that a year ago and started paying more attention to his policies), they would have heard information on the success of the economy, job creation, tax reform, and his rationale for immigration reform. His rationale was outlined, as he has been consistent about since he began campaigning, to keep bad guys out. It is important to secure our borders to keep out terrorists and criminals. In no way is his goal to keep everyone out as often claimed. What seems to be at odds are open borders versus homeland security. My grandfather earned his U.S. citizenship during his enlistment with the U.S. Army in World War II. I understand what is on the line for beneficiaries of DACA. But that does not make President Trump a racist for wanting secure U.S. borders, just as it doesn’t make him weak to consider amnesty options. It appears that a formal path to earning citizenship is what President Trump considers a sensible and achievable option, a compromise between what hard-line Democrats and hard-line Republicans want.

As usual, President Trump was not racist, xenophobic, or Islamophobic. Conspiracy theorists have him as a White supremacist. That is absurd. He would not be doing a good job of being a bigoted White supremacist by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, waving an LGBTQ flag, wishing Jewish people a Happy New Year before Rosh Hashanah, or discussing amnesty as a solution for DACA. He would not be doing a good job of being a White supremacist by bringing a range of ethnic minorities to the State of the Union address and giving voice to their stories. He also has selected quite a few women into influential and powerful positions in the U.S. political structure (e.g., Nikki Haley, Betsy Devos, Kellyanne Conway, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders). Of his 24 cabinet members, 5 are women. But their successes are not viewed as worthy of discussion by most feminists.

One problem for Trump is that since many people made up their minds in the election process of 2016, they have formed their automatic dispositional inferences and do not seek to make any effortful situational corrections (Gilbert, 1995). That is, all evidence they gather conforms to their schema of him as a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, and they discount anything that doesn’t fit with that schema. Pair that with predominantly liberal media, and you have a strong, incentivized filter that keeps people from evaluating all of the information about President Trump’s political behaviors.

In the end, people will selectively listen to what they wish to hear. Many will only associate Trump with a popularized caricature of Saturday Night Live propaganda and slogans such as “grab her by the…”, “s*#%hole”, Stormy Daniels, and “fake newsmemes.

What I saw was a man trying to restore America to being a leader on the world stage. What I saw was half a room of people standing up and cheering the recent United States achievements of increased economic success, low unemployment rates overall, low unemployment rates for Blacks, and low unemployment rates for Hispanics. I saw half a room of elected officials who had resolved to celebrate nothing America achieves or hopes to achieve, out of pettiness. I saw hate, but Donald Trump was not hate. I saw the swamp.

We should demand more from our elected officials in working together for the interests of America. Republicans and Democrats should emphasize cooperation, and voters should accept nothing less from our elected officials.