In a State of the Union address bookended with references to American heroism during World War II, President Donald Trump focused heavily on security, trade, and foreign policy. Small businesses barely surfaced in the 82-minute speech Tuesday night.

His tone was collegial, noting that "many of us have campaigned on the same core promises, to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers... We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good." 

One of the few mentions of partisanship came in the beginning of the address, when Trump implied that an investigation was incompatible with the business of making law: "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It doesn't work that way."

The President highlighted some of the successes of the past few years. While the economy got great billing, aside from an infrastructure bill, Trump didn't propose many new initiatives that seemed designed to appeal to business, and mentioned small business only once. None of the purely domestic initiatives received anywhere near the attention the President gave to what has become a priority for his administration: a wall along the United States' border with Mexico, which he described as a "smart, strategic, see-through barrier, not just a simple concrete wall."

The President painted the border as a conduit for illegal drugs, sex traffickers, and violent criminals, asking Congress to "join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis." Some have speculated that the President would declare a national emergency in order to allow him to use money allocated for other uses to build a wall. The President, notably, did not use the word "emergency" to describe the situation at the border, although he did repeatedly say that it was "very dangerous." He also said he was deploying 3,750 troops to the border.

On the domestic front, as expected, Trump laid out the rosy economic figures: growing wages, low unemployment, and about five million new jobs. The January jobs number--304,000 new jobs--got special billing, as it was almost double what was expected. He noted his administration's zeal for cutting regulations, which many entrepreneurs share. Especially notable, said Trump, was the elimination of the mandate, under the Affordable Care Act, that every individual purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. In his only mention specifically of smaller companies, the President said, "We have virtually ended the estate tax, or death tax, on small businesses."

Trump framed the trade war with China as his attempt at "reversing calamitous trade policies." He said he was working on new trade rules with China, and called for "real structural change" that would reduce the deficit and protect American jobs. He called NAFTA a "catastrophe" and urged Congress to pass his trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. And he asked for passage of the Reciprocal Trade Act, which would make it easier to launch retaliatory tariffs.

Near the end of his speech, Trump called for new legislation to address a variety of priorities: infrastructure spending; the cost of medicine and of health insurance; stopping HIV/AIDS; developing new treatments for childhood cancers; paid family leave; and the prohibition of so-called late-term abortions.

Trump returned to foreign policy for the remainder of his speech, noting that negotiations are under way to pull out of Afghanistan and saying "it is time" to remove troops from Syria. After recapping the liberation of Dacchau in 1945, Trump asked the audience to transcend their differences and "rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens." And the state of the union? As in many past years, it is reliably "strong."

Published on: Feb 5, 2019