At one level it’s hardly worth analyzing a State of the Union speech. They’re highly scripted, the policy proposals are typically known well in advance, and few presidents truly botch the delivery. With Trump, we also — for good reason — suspect that before the end of the week he’ll impulsively waste much of the goodwill he gained tonight with an ill-considered tweet (or ten).
But, still, there are still two things worth noting.
First, from a policy standpoint, the SOTU reaffirmed the temporary triumph of the Republican establishment in the GOP civil war. It wasn’t a populist speech. It wasn’t a tea party speech. It was a big-government conservative speech in the mold of George W. Bush. Tax cuts. New programs (infrastructure, paid leave). Good judges. A strong national defense. Even the harsh language on immigration was tempered by an offer of compromise. For mostly good (and some ill), it was a speech Mitch McConnell could love.
Second — and more memorably — Trump’s speech featured one of the most powerful pro-life moments I’ve seen in a presidential address. It occurred when Trump honored Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officer Ryan Holets and his wife Rebecca. He intervened to stop a pregnant homeless woman from injecting heroin and then later adopted the child, naming her Hope. You can see the moment here:
President Trump honors Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officer Ryan Holets who, with his wife, adopted the baby of a homeless woman addicted to heroin: “Ryan and Rebecca, you embody the goodness of our nation” #SOTU https://t.co/qqeomf3rg1 https://t.co/SpbK89TD27
— CNN (@CNN) January 31, 2018
That’s the heart of adoption in America — parents who live their faith, preserve life, and love their new children. Spend any time with adoptive families, and you’ll hear stories every bit as inspiring as Ryan and Rebecca’s. Their story is wonderful, but it’s not as extraordinary as you might think. I’m consistently in awe of the adoptive moms and dads that I meet, and I’m grateful that the president chose to highlight one of those families tonight.
It’s easy to get cynical about the practice of honoring heroes and recognizing families who’ve suffered loss — especially if the recognition is transparently in service of a defined, contentious policy goal — but these moments do serve a larger purpose. In angry and polarized times, we too often forget about virtue and courage. The Holets and others Trump chose to honor tonight — including men like North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho and Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck — deserved their moment in the national spotlight. I’m grateful we heard their stories.