Opinion: Donald Trump′s Oval Office address was a missed opportunity | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 09.01.2019
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Opinion: Donald Trump's Oval Office address was a missed opportunity

Donald Trump used his first prime-time address to the nation to claim that a wall along the US-Mexico border must be built to end what he deems a "national security crisis." The speech was emblematic of his presidency.

For his inaugural prime-time television address to the nation two years after taking office and during one of the longest government shutdowns in recent memory, President Donald Trump theoretically had two basic options.

He could have used the bully pulpit accorded to US presidents to present himself as the true leader of the country, one who will earnestly try to bridge the gaping divide that threatens to tear the nation apart.

He could have said that while he still holds true to his conviction that a wall is the best solution to remedy what he continues to view as a problematic and dangerous situation along the southern border, for the good of the country he is willing to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to reach a compromise that ends the partial government shutdown while at the same time protecting the US border.

 Trump administration downgrades EU mission to US

Michael Knigge

Michael Knigge is DW's correspondent in Washington

The high road

Trump could have said something like: "My fellow Americans: Regardless of whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, regardless of whether you support or oppose me, tonight is the night to start afresh and work together in the interest of our country — which all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love — and end the shutdown."

He could, in other words, have wiped the slate clean and offered an outstretched hand to the newly elected Congress to find a compromise on the border security issue after backing himself into a corner.

And guess what, his base of supporters might still have backed him, because they trust him pretty much regardless of what he does or says. Sure, the usual right-wing pundits would accuse him of caving. And sure, Democrats, and many Republicans, rightfully would not believe him and would demand proof that he was serious. But by taking the high road and reinventing himself as the surprising unifier of a divided country, he could at least have tried to regain control over the train wreck that is the Trump-caused government shutdown.

Of course, Trump in his address on Tuesday night did none of that.

Watch video 02:22

US government shutdown: The human cost

Fearmongering rhetoric

Instead, Trump used the Oval Office address to once again double down on his demand for funding for a border wall, describing the situation at the border as a "national security crisis" using misleading claims. In other words, he continued to do what his presidency has been all about so far: dividing the country further than previously thought possible.

Trump spoke of the major problem of undocumented immigration at the southern border, a "security crisis" that most immigration experts say doesn't exist. And in a segment that sounded like it was written by his hard-line political adviser Stephen Miller, he stoked fears about undocumented immigrants by linking them with violent crimes, when studies show that crime rates for undocumented immigrants are generally not higher than those of American citizens. 

Divider, not a unifier

But most importantly, Trump offered Democrats — the lawmakers he needs to end the shutdown he had previously boasted he would be proud to own — no credible incentives to help him untangle the standoff.

Instead, he simply implored them again to do the right thing and cough up more than $5 billion (€4.4 billion) for a border wall — which is precisely what Democrats have clearly said they will not do.

And so in this speech, just like in his tenure, Donald Trump has once again shown he is incapable or unwilling to fulfill a key requirement for a president: To unite, not divide the nation.

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