Presidential addresses to the nation make the most impact when they seek to unite Americans in times of trouble.
Franklin Roosevelt’s stern response to the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing, Ronald Reagan’s somber eloquence after the 1986 Challenger explosion and George W. Bush’s steely resolve the evening of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks resonate to this day.
Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s first such nationally televised address fell far short of that legacy.
Rather than bringing his fellow Americans together, he promoted further division from the Oval Office. His valid points to sell the border wall to a skeptical public were lost among the demonizing of immigrants and use of recycled talking points, cherry-picked incidents and outright untrue claims.
By pitting one faction of Americans against another, the content of his message was far from presidential.
Study after study proves that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. Trump highlighted a few particularly heinous, ghastly killings, but a far greater percentage of homicides are committed in this country each year by U.S. citizens.
We are a nation of immigrants, one that’s stronger when we identify first and foremost as Americans, regardless of our national heritage. Instead, those who view America as a beacon of hope are misrepresented as illegal border-crossers (arrests at the border are near an all-time low) and drug smugglers (Trump’s own Drug Enforcement Agency says nearly all narcotics are sneaked through ports of entry).
Plus, increased border security is a rare area of bipartisan agreement. On their first day as House majority, Democrats included $1.3 billion for manpower and technology along the border in a bill passed that would also end the partial government shutdown.
Amid all the incorrect assumptions that fueled his speech, Trump made valid points. Chief among them was a need for more immigration judges, as the present shortage is felt acutely close to home.
In July, the Journal Star reported wait times in the Omaha Immigration Court, which serves Nebraska and Iowa, averaged 855 days. As of November 2018, the most recent data available indicate the Omaha court alone has 11,083 pending cases, among nearly 810,000 nationwide.
Furthermore, he's right that Congress’ continued inaction on immigration reform has humanitarian implications. The recent deaths of two children in U.S. custody hammer that sad reality home.
His own administration’s choices, though, have only intensified the plight at the border.
To borrow from Trump’s words Tuesday night, our nation indeed has “a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul” regarding immigration. The system is broken and being exploited, and Americans are deeply divided over the best course of action.
Regrettably, the president’s speech sought to parlay those divisions into political gain, rather than using his office to close them and bring us together.