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Opinion A divisive and misleading State of the Union

Opinion | What if the American public, not President Trump, defined the State of the Union address? (Video: Adriana Usero, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

HAVE A president's words ever rung more hollow? In his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump spoke of "what kind of nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people and one American family." Yet Mr. Trump could not avoid, even for an hour, lacing his address with divisive references to hot-button issues and graceless attacks on his predecessors: to "disastrous Obamacare," "the mistakes of past administrations," "the era of economic surrender" and more.

More to the point, he offered little reason to hope that his second-year policies would be more constructive than those of his first. The president spent the past year attacking America's democratic institutions and splitting the "American family." His concern for building "one team" has not stopped him from ramping up deportations of harmless people or imperiling the future of the "dreamers," all of whom have played their part on the American team. His desire for bipartisanship has not led him to negotiate with Democrats in good-faith on health care, taxes or immigration. His search for unity did not stop him Tuesday from taking a gratuitous dig at football players who kneel during the national anthem. As he took a victory lap on the economy, Mr. Trump displayed his typical indifference to the truth, claiming he "enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history." They are not.

Looking forward, Mr. Trump showed no sign he would budge from his maximalist demands on immigration. If this is what he considers compromise, he does not understand the concept. The rest of the president's vision fell well short of the agenda the nation needs. To his credit, Mr. Trump asked Republicans and Democrats to strike a deal to invest $1.5 trillion in national infrastructure, but offered few details. He promised to end "decades of unfair trade deals." Coming right after the news that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which the president removed the United States, would continue, but without America, it has never been clearer that Mr. Trump's economic isolationism cedes opportunities to other nations. On health care, Mr. Trump offered no plan to fill the gaps he has created in the Obamacare system.

On foreign affairs, Mr. Trump took credit for the recapture of most of the territory held by the Islamic State, the extension of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He said he would ask Congress to act on foreign terrorist detainees and aid to other nations, without making clear what new authorities or changes he would seek. Similarly, he talked of a campaign to apply "maximum pressure" to North Korea but did not elaborate.

Mr. Trump did not mention many of the nation's biggest, longer-term threats. The fiscal crisis, worsened by his tax bill, threatens future generations. Economic inequality is high. The world continues to warm. Russia's meddling poses a threat to U.S. elections. Sadly, the morning after a very long speech, none of that is going to look any different.

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