Narration: Seventy-six percent of the American people approve of President Trump’s State of the Union address. What does this mean to national politics?
Tom Del Beccaro: The biggest thing that Trump wanted to achieve was to show that he’s not the ogre that they make him out to be and that America can achieve things, and I think he did achieve that.
Narration: The president did not declare a national emergency over border security. Will the wall still get built?
Tom Del Beccaro: I expect him to keep pushing for it. It’ll happen in fits and starts. It will be a campaign issue in 2020, and then the discussion will be renewed in 2021.
Narration: Could New York’s new abortion law backfire on the Democratic Party?
Tom Reston: I am not sure what to say about that. I think it probably depends on who you are asking.
Narration: And could a Democratic theorist justify the ultimate rationale of late-term abortion?
Tom Reston: People are uncomfortable with it. And I think Democrats ought to listen to their opponents about this and realize there are legitimate moral questions about abortion.
Narration: The president said America will never be a socialist country. Are the American people with him?
Simone Gao: Welcome to “Zooming In,” I’m Simone Gao. President Trump’s State of the Union address is what a lot of people didn’t expect. In my opinion, it’s the most unifying and presidential speech he’s given so far. What did this address achieve? What did it not achieve? Looking forward, how will the country’s biggest challenges be dealt with? I spoke with two authors from both sides. Thomas B. Reston has spent a lifetime in politics, working in eight presidential campaigns at the national level and in countless local and statewide efforts. He is a civil rights advocate and author of “Soul of a Democrat.” Tom Del Beccaro is an author from the Republican side. He served as the California Republican Party chairman from 2011 to 2013, founded Political Vanguard, and is the author of “The Divided Era.” I gave both of them plenty of time to elaborate their views. I believe a Socratic dialectic in which both sides strive to bring out the best of their reasonings is the only way we as a nation can come to sound solutions to the problems we face. At “Zooming In,” we strive to achieve this. In order to present their ideas more coherently, I only included one person’s interview in each episode. This edition is dedicated to Mr. Tom Del Beccaro.
Narration: On the night of Feb. 5, President Donald Trump delivered his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Just under 46.8 million people watched the president’s 82-minute address across 12 networks. The viewership was up by 10 percent compared to 2018.
The president touched on issues such as border security, abortion, the economy, criminal justice reform, ending unfair trade practices, bringing American troops back and more. Trump also lambasted the resurgent trend of socialism in the United States.
President Trump: Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.
America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free and we will stay free.
Audience: USA! USA! USA!
President Trump: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
Audience: USA! USA! USA!
Narration: According to one count, the president was interrupted by applause 98 times. A CBS and YouGov poll found that 76 percent of viewers approved of Trump’s speech, versus just 24 percent who disapproved. About 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, 82 percent of independents approved, and 30 percent of Democrats approved.
Simone Gao: I also attended the State of the Union address. I saw Democrats enter the room glum and angry at Trump, but they left the speech clapping and laughing. Sure, when the president first mentioned his special guests, the 90-year-old war heroes, the Democrats were guaranteed to stand and clap. But the spontaneous moment came when Trump celebrated the fact that this Congress had the most women representatives in American history. That’s when Democratic women cheered and gave each other high fives. Does this mean much? What has been changed and what has not been changed. Here is my discussion with Tom Del Beccaro.
Simone Gao: What is your biggest takeaway from President Trump’s State of the Union address?
Tom Del Beccaro: I think there were two big takeaways: Number one, President Trump once again defied his critics and gave a really good speech. And it was a unifying speech. Even the Democrats on several occasions stood up and applauded. And that’s why you saw that even in the CBS and CNN polls that the approval rating for the speech was in the mid-70s. So that’s number one. Number two, and perhaps the most striking picture, was when President Trump said that we would not become a socialist nation, and the whole country, if not the world, got to see the Democrats sitting there in defiance of that statement and made it very much look like they wanted us to be a socialist nation. And we have to ask whether the Democrats are becoming the socialist party of America.
Simone Gao: So do you think the American people are with the president on this? First, we don’t want to be a socialist country. Second, we are on track to become one.
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, remember long ago Thomas Jefferson said the natural order of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. The United States government sector has been growing for decades. We now have a $4.4 trillion federal budget and overall government spending is 36 percent of the economy. And we have government schools, government pensions, government health care, and many other government programs. So yes, we are becoming a massive government-based economy. We’re still only at 36 percent. Europe’s above 50 percent. But if we kept going in that direction, yeah, you could make the case that we would be becoming a socialist country. Trump’s right to stand up for that, because as you know, the larger the government sector the lower the growth in the private sector and, over the long term, the lower the standard of living. Americans don’t want that. But then again, government doesn’t creep so much in the eyes of Americans. It does it sort of behind the scenes, so they don’t realize how very big their government is. But if the Republicans were smart and demonstrated how big it is and what the cost is, then I think Americans would be on their side.
Simone Gao: What do you think the president wanted to achieve through this speech, and do you think he achieved it?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, keep in mind half the nation is prepared to dislike President Trump, especially when they get their news from places like CNN and MSNBC. So I think the biggest thing that Trump wanted to achieve was to show that he’s not the ogre that they make him out to be and that America can achieve things. He wanted to rise above the divided era, if you will. And I think he did achieve that. That’s how you saw such sky-high approval ratings.
Narration: 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied liberation of Europe in 1944. President Trump renewed the American people’s memory of how this country helped end the Second World War.
President Trump: Judah says he can still remember the exact moment, nearly 75 years ago, after 10 months in a concentration camp, when he and his family were put on a train and told they were going to another camp. Suddenly, the train screeched to a very strong halt. A soldier appeared. Judah’s family braced for the absolute worst. Then, his father cried out with joy, “It’s the Americans! It’s the Americans!”
A second Holocaust survivor who is here tonight, Joshua Kaufman, was a prisoner at Dachau. He remembers watching through a hole in the wall of a cattle car as American soldiers rolled in with tanks. “To me,” Joshua recalls, “the American soldiers were proof that God exists, and they came down from the sky.” They came down from Heaven.
Simone Gao: When the President renewed our memories of D-Day, when he told emotional stories of both the survivors and the heroes, what was it like for you? What do you think the President’s message is?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, it was impossible, really, to watch that without being stirred. I mean, the amount of sacrifice that, what were 18 year olds at the time, or around that age, made is incomprehensible to Americans today. And yet it changed all of world history for all of time. And so it’s a stirring moment. And keep in mind we can only have a few more of these moments. Those 18 year olds in the early 1940s, they won’t be here much longer. And I think what he was trying to achieve is, A, to actually celebrate their lives, but B, for Americans to understand that they have done great things, they should be proud of their country. Remember, there’s a lot of Democrats who claim not to be proud of America at this moment. And most of America doesn’t think that way. So what Trump was doing was connecting a good majority of Americans with the country’s greatest accomplishments and then challenging them to achieve more. I thought he was very successful doing that in the speech. I think this speech ranks with some of Reagan’s best.
Narration: Coming up, President Trump did not declare a national emergency on the southern border. Will the wall still get built?
Leading up to the State of the Union address, the president indicated that he might use emergency authority to access funds to build the wall. That did not happen on Tuesday night.
President Trump: Now, Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis. Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border.
Now is the time for Congress to show the world that America is committed to ending illegal immigration and putting the ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.
Simone Gao: Talking about border security, the president didn’t declare a national emergency on the southern border during his State of the Union address as some people expected. What do you make of it? What do you think his plan is for the wall going forward?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, I think the reason why he didn’t talk about a national emergency during the speech is that he does want time to play out and see if the country is—both the House Republicans and House Democrats can come to some sort of compromise on the issue of border security in the remaining days we have under the current bill that kept the government open. I still expect them to reach some sort of compromise. There’s no appetite among Republicans for another shutdown. Nancy Pelosi recently said there wouldn’t be another shutdown. So rather than injecting that into this speech which, by the way, would have become the topic of discussion afterwards, everything else would have been forgotten if he had declared that national emergency. He had a higher goal for this speech, so he left it out. Give them a chance to compromise. And he made the case as to why there is actually a crisis at the border. There is, between drugs, human trafficking, sex crimes, violence, the treatment of women who make their way up from Central America. All those are crisis proportions. So he made that case, but he still gave time for compromise. And I think that was the wise thing to do.
Simone Gao: So do you think the president will really build the wall? And how is he going to go about it?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, I think this issue has been a part of American politics for decades and decades. It was a big deal during the Reagan administration. It’s been a big deal ever since. Part of the wall is being constructed now. He just wants to extend not only that portion but the portion that already exists. He made the case on what a difference it’s made in San Diego, and I guarantee you walls work. So what he’s doing is continuing discussion. Will he get all that he wants? No. No president ever does. But this will be a continuing discussion, and I bet if you and I were sitting here again ten years from now some portion of this discussion would still exist. So I expect him to keep pushing for it. It will happen in fits and starts. It will be a campaign issue in 2020, and then the discussion will be renewed in 2021.
Simone Gao: Interesting. Sometimes when I think about the wall, I compare it to the U.S. overhaul of its China policy. You know the China engagement policy that has largely been promoted by big American corporations lasted for several decades before average Americans and also the big corporations, with intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer, really felt the pain. And once that happened, and also because of Trump, America quickly snapped out of it. I wonder if the border problem will also be like that? When the average Americans really feel the pain, everything will change.
Tom Del Beccaro: Generally there’s three aspects to the current immigration debate. There is the national security concern, those coming over the border are potential terrorists; there’s the violence and drugs along the border; and then there’s the issue of jobs. Historically if the economy is not growing, immigration becomes a big deal because those here already are in competition with those coming for jobs. This isn’t just true for America. This has been true through all of time. And so while the economy is growing, and it is doing quite well in America right now, the issue of jobs is downplayed. So they won’t feel that in the same degree as they will when the economy wasn’t growing under President Obama. I think the issue of whether the Americans will come to support more border walls will come down to whether Republicans make the case on the extent of the violence and the potential terrorism. And in order to do that, they have to do what you’re doing right now, which is take a video of something actually happening. They have to go down to the border, and they have to show actual video of the violence, the danger, the crossings so that it’s not disputable. Right now when Nancy Pelosi says walls are immoral, those are just words. But if you put a picture to it and the immorality of the violence that’s occurring to people or the fact that terrorists do come across, things of that nature, only then will I think the dynamic really change and Americans get behind a more robust border security policy.
Narration: Coming up, America is shifting to the right. Which party is riding the tide?
On Jan. 22, the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision marked its 47th anniversary. It guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion. On the same day, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act into law. The RHA permits abortions after 24 weeks if a health care professional determines the health or life of the mother is at risk, or the fetus is not viable. Previously, abortions after 24 weeks were justified only in cases where the mother’s life was at risk. Under the old law, New York criminalized abortion unless it was “justifiable.” The RHA removes abortion from the state’s penal code altogether.
At the State of the Union address, President Trump urged Congress to pass legislation to prohibit late-term abortion.
President Trump: These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.
To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.
Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children—born and unborn—are made in the holy image of God.
Simone Gao: Another emotional moment was when the president talked about New York’s new late-term abortion law. He urged the Congress to pass laws prohibiting late-term abortions. Do you think the president is doing the right thing, and do you think the majority of Americans are with the president on this issue?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, certainly from my personal perspective he’s doing the right thing. And I think he’s doing the right thing by his own conscience. The vast majority of Americans are against these type of late-term abortions. And, quite honestly, it’s shocking to the American conscience that there are politicians who think just before birth that you can go forward with an abortion. This is a losing issue for the Democrats. They are pushing far too far to the left in the eyes of Americans. So by highlighting this issue, Trump is doing the right thing from a moral standpoint, from his own conscience, and it’s also in keeping with the views of the vast majority of Americans.
Narration: According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, looking ahead, 58 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say they want the GOP to move in a more conservative direction.
Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters, 53 percent of them want the Democratic Party to move in a more moderate direction, while 40 percent want the party to move further left. This number dropped since Trump’s presidential election victory in 2016. At that time, 49 percent of Democrats wanted the party to head in a more liberal direction.
Simone Gao: You are the author of “The Divided Era.” How serious do you think this problem is and whether and how do you think the country should go forward as a whole?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well, if you consider my premise for the book “The Divided Era,” which is basically the more government decides the more it divides. Because in every action the government picks a winner or loser and someone to pay for it. The larger government gets the more divisive it gets. And so right now government continues to grow in America. It’s about at 36 percent. Actually there’s the potential, as the private sector continues to grow, for it to be a much smaller percentage. But the Democrats are not interested just in the economy anymore. In fact, I could make the case that the economy is way down on the list to them. They’re more interested in social justice. So the chasm between Democrats and Republicans is as large as it’s ever been in American history. And while that chasm continues to get farther and farther apart with the Democrats pushing for essentially socialism and the Republicans pushing the opposite way, there really is very little opportunity for compromise between them. And so, in my mind, the division is going to continue until there’s an overriding reason to bring them together like a foreign policy concern, the last one of which we had, sadly, was 9/11. So I expect this division to continue.
Simone Gao: How do you think the president is doing? Does he want to unite the country? Or, even if he isn’t able to unite the country, is he doing what is right for the country?
Tom Del Beccaro: Well I think from a policy perspective he’s doing quite well. The economic and regulatory reforms he’s undertaking are making a huge difference. The reason why we have growth in excess of 3 percent right now is solely due to policy changes that freed up the American economy and gave Americans a chance to bring the economy back as compared to what it was like under President Obama when the heavy hand of government was keeping growth down. On the foreign policy front, five years ago America was watching beheadings of ISIS on TV, and that seems like a distant memory now. He’s made strides with respect to North Korea. He’s making strides with respect to a better trade policy with China. So I think from a policy perspective, he’s doing well. But keep in mind the Democrats aren’t interested just in the economy. In fact, I don’t think they’re very much interested in the economy. They care more about social justice. They’re obsessed with picking the next Supreme Court justice. So they’re going to disapprove of anything Trump does. I mean, Trump could give away the winning lottery numbers and they would complain, asking what took him so long to help everyone. So from that perspective, I think Trump is doing well from a policy point of view. But he’s still under attack. They won’t be very aggressive in the short term, but they’re going to find their voice again. In about four months the Democrats are going to start their debates to get the presidential nomination in 2020. Those are going to be lively, and they’re going to be very far to the left. And that’s when all the stories are going to change coming out of America. How far left is America going to go, and Trump gets to cut a very different viewpoint by saying we shouldn’t be socialist. We need to grow the economy not your taxes. So I think that’s really what this year is going to be about: how far left the Democrats go. And Trump needs to demonstrate that he’s already had things on the mend and there’s no reason to go backwards.
Simone Gao: This concludes my interview with Tom Del Beccaro. Next week we will have Tom Reston. Please let us know what you think by writing to us on Twitter @ZoomingInSimone. Thank you for joining us for this edition on the State of the Union. If you liked it, please share. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel: “Zooming In with Simone Gao.” Goodbye until next time.