President Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 30. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

IN HIS State of the Union address, President Trump seemed intent on burying any chance of enacting legislation to protect the "dreamers." Instead of reaching out to Democrats to fashion a readily achievable compromise, the president injected more ethno-nationalist venom into a debate he already has done much to poison.

Eleven million immigrants are living in this country without legal documentation, but the vast majority of them are otherwise law-abiding. In fact, they are overwhelmingly employed, long-term residents who contribute to their communities in all manner of ways. That is especially true of the dreamers, young people brought to this country as children by their parents. Very few Americans want to see the dreamers rounded up and deported, so you'd think a president would search for common ground to prepare the way for their eventual path to citizenship.

Instead, Mr. Trump chose in the most inflammatory way possible to associate immigrants with a horrific crime committed by a vicious gang. Rather than reminding Americans of their common roots as immigrants and stressing that immigration is the cornerstone of the American story, Mr. Trump vilified them. He would have Americans believe that compassionate treatment for unaccompanied minors who cross the border, often fleeing violence and poverty, or family-based immigration is somehow akin to acquiescing in the homicidal nihilism of MS-13.

Mr. Trump could have sought a constructive way forward. He could have urged Congress to forge a straightforward deal — a shield for the dreamers in return for border security. Some Democrats would be reluctant to give the president his "beautiful wall"; some Republicans would balk at "amnesty" for dreamers. But if Mr. Trump embraced the deal, so would Congress.

Instead, he attempted to expropriate the grief of four of his guests in the gallery: parents still mourning the brutal 2016 murder of their teenage daughters on Long Island. That won't earn him the moral high ground, but it may well deepen the nation's divisions and further complicate the fate of nearly 2 million young immigrants about whom Mr. Trump has said, "I love these kids."

Maybe the saddest moment of the speech came when Mr. Trump tried to knock the dreamers off their sympathetic perch with the cleverly contemptuous line, "Americans are dreamers, too." Yes, of course, Americans are dreamers. But he should finish the thought. For most dreamers, the United States is the only country they know. Dreamers are U.S. soldiers, high school valedictorians, the young couple living next door. Yes, Americans are dreamers — and dreamers are Americans. If only we had a president who understood as much.