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Listen to the 10 min audio
Read the transcript:
TRUMP’S FIRST STATE OF THE UNION IMPRESSES
TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I want to go back to last Tuesday night. It was President Trump’s first ever State of the Union address. One op-ed piece by Liz Peek out of Fox News said that, “He delivered more drama, passion and feel-good patriotism than his critics in Tinseltown delivered all year. He reaffirmed his dedication to border security, to a strong military, to religious freedom, to protecting the Second Amendment and to upholding our veterans and law enforcement, seemingly challenging Democrats to deny reasonableness and popularity on these bedrock commitments.
WHY DO WE HAVE A STATE OF THE UNION?
DR. REEDER: Let’s set a little bit of historical context, here, Tom. This State of the Union speech grows out of something that began with President George Washington and carried on by the second president, John Adams – it was called the “Annual Report of the President.” It was written out, and delivered and read – more or less continued with presidents. The shift came in 1913 under Woodrow Wilson, who came and delivered it personally to the Congress and that’s what has carried on since then through all the presidents.
It’s clearly theater now, but you and I conversed over the fact that we thought he was making a big mistake out of putting together so many people in the balcony that he would tell their story. I still wonder about the number, somewhat. It was interesting how you began to anticipate it because he clearly was using story to introduce policy. He told the story and then declared the policy that would address this story.
Now, it’s very much like a sermon, if you don’t mind me saying so. Preachers make points from the Bible and then try to illustrate it. He reversed it: He made stories and then tried to make a point about his policy. I thought he did a good job on that. As much as this president is declared as ego-driven – and there’s much evidence to that – the fact is, his personal pronouns were, if I’m not mistaken, about 75 percent or more less than President Obama’s personal pronouns and continually said, “This is what the Congress has done,” or, “This is what the people have done.”
DID DEMOCRAT THEATER OVERRIDE PATRIOTISM?
Now theater is not only in how it is presented and the narratives and the stories, but it’s theater also by how people respond. This was very clearly theater that revealed something even I think further than the Parliament in England – and, the English Parliament, the parties out of power declared themselves the “Loyal Opposition” – it was very clear that this is not loyal opposition but this is a resistance and they can’t even affirm good things happening in the country lest the president get the credit for it and be declared successful. In other words, they’re going to deny the good things and not affirm the good things, not because they’re not there but because, if we applaud them, that may contribute to it being attributed to the president and we don’t want to be in any way a part of his success. We’re there to resist him.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Britt Hume, in the post-coverage, said they looked morose. Do you think they hurt themselves, the Democrats?
DR. REEDER: I grew up in an age where the African-American at work was the picture of stability and now the unemployment in the African-American community is even less than it was in the 1950s. And the Hispanic community, both of those demographics in the population of this nation have the lowest unemployment they’ve ever had and I couldn’t understand why the Hispanic and the African-American Caucus in the Congress would not applaud that factor. And then, when you don’t applaud the military, I don’t see how you gain on that at all. That’s a pretty negative picture and negative pictures do not motivate.
TRUMP HIT A CHORD WITH REAGAN REPUBLICANS
I am not saying Donald Trump is Reagan, but there was a Reagan-esque quality to the speech, itself: positive, uplifting.
TOM LAMPRECHT: Vision casting?
DR. REEDER: Casting a vision. We certainly need to recognize our faults but the best thing that can happen is for America to be strong. From a Christian world and life view, I would have given anything if there could have been a reference beyond the obligatory reference at the end, God Bless America. I wish there had been more of a reference to our need of a spiritual awakening here in the speech, but he did declare his unwavering commitment to the freedom of religion.
Let me just mention a couple of things in closing, Tom. The first one is this, that he set up two things for the future in that speech that are an opportunity to invite cooperation on both sides of the aisle: to establish border security and reform an overhaul of the immigration policy. I’m not going to go back over what we have said on that – I commend our audience to go back and look at our archives on it. Then, secondly, infrastructure improvements, which I do believe is a function of the government to encourage that. It’s something like 80 percent federal money on infrastructure and 20 percent state money. He gave a vision of reversing that – 60 percent state plus private engagement.
I thought those two things were casting vision and problems that need to be addressed and inviting a bipartisan effort. Now, he’s been criticized: this was advertised as a bipartisan speech so could President Trump done more reaching out? I think so, but the other thing I would say is that it was expected that both Democrats and Republicans would be positive at the first part of the speech when the statistics were given in the improvements at the state of the union. Of course, that became the occasion for a political response instead of a national response to those statistics.
DEMOCRATS WILL NOT APPLAUD ANYTHING TRUMP DOES
Now, let me just say the president may bear some responsibility for that because, in the midst of it, he made some rather pointed remarks about Obamacare and that may have chilled the event, itself. That’s another analysis to take. So, from a Christian world and life view, I think there was much to learn from it – there’s much to see about our nation and the divided nature of our nation right now on the lines of politics and ideology. Is it big government and small freedoms or is it big freedoms and smaller government?
The Democratic party obviously believes this is an illegitimate president and they are not able to affirm the positive, lest it be attributed to him. The widespread response CBS survey where 97 percent of the Republicans approved it and 40 percent plus of the Democrats approved the speech – those Democratic politicians might want to look at that statistic – and then a large number of independents so that it averaged out 75 percent, which is pretty remarkable given his low approval ratings.
WE NEED SWEEPING REVIVAL
I would say, in conclusion, I believe the great unity of this nation is a sweeping revival – I know people say, “Harry, I knew you were going to say that” – but a sweeping revival in which something bigger than even nationalism would take hold, something more glorious, and that is a nation that sees its significance as a glorious field for the progress of the Gospel and all of the benefits that brings and how that unites people in one Lord and one faith and one baptism, not by legislative coercion but by the persuasion of the Holy Spirit with the work of the Gospel. It just showed me how much more the fissures of society, due to the secular world and life view and the Christian world and life view present, that those fissures need to be addressed through the love of Christ, the truth of Christ and that we reach profoundly.
I’m going to paraphrase what one of my friends said: The speech could have been this, “Here are some great things. Isn’t this wonderful? Praise the Lord. Here’s some things that we need to address. Would you help me? And let’s pray for God’s intervention. Thirdly, I have closed down my Twitter account. God Bless America.” That would have been a great speech at the end.
I know that, by the time our program airs that people are going to have been processing this and, hopefully, we’ve been of some help. As a Christian, I want to labor all the more for the work of the Gospel – I want to be a good citizen, and I’m going to pray for my president, and for my Democratic and Republican elected officials, and ask God to do a great work from the bottom up with the Gospel and then give us those who can rise above personal promotion and establish legislation that reflects a world and life view that honors the dignities of humanity, affirmed by the Constitution of our nation.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.
This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News. Jessica has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and her work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.