Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) had the unenviable task of rebutting President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address this week. Kennedy found himself repudiating Trump’s advocacy of traditional Democratic Party issues, including government accountability, fair trade, job training, paid family leave, prison reform, and rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
The privileged political tyro also had the misfortune of having to begrudge the tax cuts and regulatory reform that has helped create 2.4 million new jobs (200,000 of them in manufacturing), enabled employers to raise wages substantially for the first time in years, and brought black and Hispanic unemployment levels to historic lows.
Trump’s America: We endured floods and fires and storms. But through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul, and the steel in America’s spine. Each test has forged new American heroes to remind us who we are, and show us what we can be.
Kennedy’s America: We see … [h]atred and supremacy proudly marching in our streets.
Trump’s America: We saw the volunteers of the “Cajun Navy,” racing to the rescue with their fishing boats to save people in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane. . . . [S]trangers shielding strangers from a hail of gunfire on the Las Vegas strip . . . Americans like Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert, who . . . braved live power lines and deep water, to help save more than 40 lives. . . . Americans like firefighter David Dahlberg [who] faced down walls of flame to rescue almost 60 children trapped at a California summer camp threatened by wildfires.
Kennedy’s America: [“Dreamers”] wade through flood waters, battle hurricanes, and brave wildfires and mudslides to save a stranger.
Trump’s America: Over the last year, the world has seen what we always knew: that no people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans. If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it. So let us begin tonight by recognizing that the state of our Union is strong because our people are strong.
Kennedy’s America: Many have spent the past year anxious, angry, afraid. We all feel the fault lines of a fractured country. We hear the voices of Americans who feel forgotten and forsaken.
Trump’s America: The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401k, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts. . . . [R]oughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses—many of them thousands of dollars per worker. Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.
Kennedy’s America: We see an economy that makes stocks soar, investor portfolios bulge and corporate profits climb but fails to give workers their fair share of the reward.
Trump’s America: We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year—forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they could not afford government-ordered health plans. . . . One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. . . . I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down. . . . My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. The struggle will be long and difficult—but, as Americans always do, we will prevail.
Kennedy’s America: We choose a health care system that offers mercy, whether you suffer from cancer or depression or addiction.
Trump’s America: [T]o every citizen watching at home tonight—no matter where you have been, or where you come from, this is your time. If you work hard, if you believe in yourself, if you believe in America, then you can dream anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything. . . . We want every American to know the dignity of a hard day’s work. We want every child to be safe in their home at night. And we want every citizen to be proud of this land that we love. . . . We can lift our citizens from welfare to work, from dependence to independence, and from poverty to prosperity.
Kennedy’s America: For [this administration], dignity isn’t something you’re born with but something you measure. By your net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size. Not to mention, the gender of your spouse. The country of your birth. The color of your skin. The God of your prayers.
Trump’s America: My duty, and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans—to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers too. . . . This is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.
Kennedy’s America: Their record is a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count. In the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God, and our government. That is the American promise. But today that promise is being broken. By an administration that callously appraises our worthiness and decides who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.
Trump’s America: Americans love their country. And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return. . . . [T]his Capitol, this city, and this nation, belong to them. . . . The people dreamed this country. The people built this country. And it is the people who are making America great again. . . . As long as we have confidence in our values, faith in our citizens, and trust in our God, we will not fail.
Kennedy’s America: And to all the “Dreamers” watching tonight, let me be clear: Ustedes son parte de nuestra historia. Vamos a luchar por ustedes y no nos vamos alejar. … You proudly marched together last weekend—thousands deep—in the streets of Las Vegas and Philadelphia and Nashville. You sat high atop your mom’s shoulders and held a sign that read: “Build a wall and my generation will tear it down.”
When Trump looks at America, he sees optimism and opportunity. When Kennedy looks at America, he sees despair and deprivation. Given their reactions to the State of the Union, most viewers prefer to live in Trump’s America. And that’s bad news for Democrats in the midterm elections when voters choose actual candidates, not answer poll questions about generic ballots.