This Tuesday night, President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address. It was optimistic, inclusive and inspiring. It laid out core differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. And it challenged Americans to act.
His connection with the audience was so strong that, at one point, the chamber broke into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Judah Samet, an audience member who survived the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, which killed 11 members of his community. Samet, who turned 81 on Tuesday, also survived the Holocaust, spending 10 months in a concentration camp before being freed by American soldiers.
Trump articulated his definition of victory as one that is all-inclusive: "Victory is not winning for our party. Victory is winning for our country."
And he ticked through a laundry list of our country's victories over the last century: "America saved freedom, transformed science and redefined the middle-class standard of living for the entire world to see."
But he noted that we still face major challenges: "We must create a new standard of living for the 21st century. ... We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before."
Those challenges can be met only by working together, he told the members of Congress. "We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise and the common good. We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction."
He asked challenged them to make the right choice: "I ask you to choose greatness."
Trump enumerated some of the successes his administration has achieved since he took office: 5.3 million new jobs (600,000 in manufacturing); 5 million Americans off of food stamps; a rapidly growing economy; the lowest overall unemployment rate in half a century; the lowest unemployment rates ever for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans and Americans with disabilities; the passage of tax cuts; the end to Obamacare's individual mandate penalty; the passage of the Right to Try Act, which gives eligible patients access to eligible investigational drugs; the massive reduction in governmental regulations; the emergence of the United States as the world's No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas and a net exporter of energy.
Trump touted bipartisan bills that have passed under his leadership, including "legislation to confront the opioid crisis, a sweeping new Farm Bill, historic VA reforms ... (and) groundbreaking criminal justice reform."
Trump then outlined what is at stake in the fight over how best to secure the southern border.
He talked about "ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers and human traffickers out of business." He added: "We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens. This includes our obligation to the millions of immigrants living here today, who followed the rules and respected our laws."
Trump then clearly laid out his perspective on immigration. "Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways. I want people to come into our country, but they have to come in legally."
He described what happens when our borders are insecure: "One in 3 women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north. Smugglers use migrant children as human pawns to exploit our laws and gain access to our country. Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery. Tens of thousands of innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border and flood into our cities — including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl."
The proposal Trump has sent to Congress "includes humanitarian assistance, more law enforcement, drug detection at our ports, closing loopholes that enable child smuggling and plans for a new physical barrier ... a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall."
Trump laid out additional priorities: rebuild infrastructure, "lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs, ... protect patients with pre-existing conditions ... eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years," fight childhood cancer, "pass school choice ... nationwide paid family leave ... (and) legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children."
He laid down the gauntlet regarding socialism. "America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination and control. We are born free, and we will stay free. Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country."
As he closed, Trump issued a call for unity. "We must choose whether we are defined by our differences — or whether we dare to transcend them."
His speech was superb, his delivery pitch perfect. The question is: Are the American people listening? And more importantly, if they are not, how can they be reached?
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.