This State of the Union address was notable for its subtle or quiet articulation of the American Dream, running parallel to the overt one. Beyond Trump’s affirmative messaging was an important theme sketched out through things unsaid.
Today and on into at least the near future, the president suggested, Americans still have the needed resources to dissipate fears that powerful global trends will overpower the American way, our more or less traditional manner of living. The New World need not yet kneel before the Old.
Despite taking his time with a lengthy speech, Trump devoted no space to the major forces roiling Europe. The grand meltdown of the established political economy, under ever greater populist heat that often takes a post-ideological character, posed no threat to America’s fortunes.
So too with technology. Although Silicon Valley is now held out for bitter condemnation by observers across the ideological spectrum, the dominant tech companies were spared Trump’s chastisement. Neither AI nor automation were singled out as menacing developments primed to take apart America’s social compact or labor markets. Trans-partisan criticism again notwithstanding, neither the deep state nor the Five Eyes intelligence alliance were invoked, or even alluded to, as encroachments on Americans’ freedom or flourishing.
These would be dark notes in any speech, and in this one, clearly calibrated to strike an upbeat tone without losing the political initiative, they might have felt ominously out of place. But they are the preoccupations of the public mind, and at some point they will need to be addressed—whether by Trump, his critics, or the American people themselves.