In his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump will have an opportunity to outline his vision, and his apparent goal will be to advocate "bipartisanship." But it is the President who will need to demonstrate that he will retreat from his divisive path and begin to move America forward by putting bipartisan government ahead of political extremism.
Obviously in a divided nation, with extreme feelings of alienation on both sides of the political spectrum, it is the overwhelming and festering national need. Racial, religious and political tensions are ripping apart American society.
The Founding Fathers stitched together an exquisite fabric to connect a land of different people into one community through balance of power and respect for diversity. The first year of the Trump Administration has weakened those links. E pluribus unum, our nation's founding premise stitched on the seal on the flag behind the President's desk, has been made a mockery.
But the President's words alone advocating "bipartisanship" will not fix the problem he created.
If the President, who now needs Senate Democrats to pass a continuing resolution and then a budget in February, wants any degree of reasonable cooperation, he will need to make the first moves.
The President's State of the Union address must show that he will abandon the extreme conservative orthodoxy he adopted to win the Republican presidential primaries and that he is now ready to govern. He has a large credibility gap that he must cross, as just last week the President's immigration proposal reinforced his extremism and his anti-immigrant philosophy. A State of the Union call for "bipartisanship" must be matched with actual policy proposals that reflect a dramatic shift in his approach to be taken seriously.
The President must appreciate the anger and resentment he has caused. On immigration, he has unilaterally ended DACA and now holds it hostage. His proposal on immigration is tantamount to saying, "I will release the hostages but we must close the door to immigration." He may as well ask the Democrats to take down the Statue of Liberty.
The President's insistence on a $25 billion "wall" is like asking the American people to finance a campaign poster for his polarizing politics. Saying we should build a wall on the border with Mexico like the Great Wall of China was ridiculous as campaign rhetoric and is even more absurd as government policy. Parts of the Great Wall date as far back as 700 BC. No nation today would employ such an ancient strategy. Security should rest on new technology, motion sensors and infrared cameras at a fraction of the cost. Trump can get a bipartisan agreement on border protection, but let the experts design a real security system at the most efficient price, and not a political icon.
His tax reform plan was the most egregious violation of "bipartisanship" in modern history. Rather than gifting corporations a 40% tax cut and hoping their generosity would transfer down to workers, he should amend the bill and say corporations MUST give the windfall to workers by raising their wages or creating new jobs. Tax reform is a $1.5 trillion gift to wealthy corporations that will increase the national debt. It was trickle-down economics on steroids.
If the President truly wants to repair relations for a functioning bipartisan government, he must call for a repeal of the vile provision in his tax reform that curtailed the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). It targeted 11 states (and the District of Columbia) -- all Democratic, all states President Trump lost, all states without a Republican Senator and a small minority of Republican representatives in the House.
Why did the Republicans do it? They did it because curtailing SALT was a key part of a package of deduction limits and eliminations that provided $668 billion in funding for the tax cuts. Yet these 11 states and the District of Columbia represent 40% of the national Gross Domestic Product. Does any reasonable person believe that damaging 40% of the nation's economy is good for the country?
They robbed blue states to pay for the tax cut in red states. It was the declaration of an economic civil war. It has devastating consequences for those targeted states like New York and California, and we are scrambling to rewrite our tax codes in its wake. We believe it is unconstitutional and we will go to court to stop it.
How can the Democrats from those states, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi from California, "compromise" without the SALT provision being repealed? How can they abandon their constituents?
The President must be credible on a seemingly incredibly sudden change of perspective. A disingenuous State of the Union is the worst course that the President could take. Judging by his record low-approval ratings, most Americans already doubt his credibility and sincerity. Offering a "do as I say but not as I do " State of the Union would be the height of hypocrisy.
As Governor, I have worked with a Republican Senate and a Democratic Assembly for seven years. The transition from campaigning to governing is essential. Governing is effectuating positive change. President Trump cannot do that without Democrats, and his past scorched earth, hyper-partisan approach will not work. He needs Democrats now, and he knows it. But he should know that even in politics, action speaks louder than words.