President Barack Obama enters his last year in office amid an atmosphere of restlessness and anxiety. On Tuesday night he once again strolled into the lion’s den — a Congress dominated by many of his staunchest and most vocal critics — with a mission to help make the nation feel better about itself.
He generally succeeded while throwing in some well-aimed barbs at those who constantly criticize almost everything about America today. (Hello, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.)
Foreign policy and national security have gripped the attention of the average American, for good reasons. These are tense times. And Obama spent many minutes trying to put the challenges in context: “how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.”
Economically, he agreed that much more needs to be done. Millions more people are working since the nadir of the recession, the president correctly noted, but job security and wages remain weak.
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Still, instead of rolling out a long list of specific programs often seen in these addresses, Obama outlined a few excellent priorities to focus on in the next five to 10 years.
He called for giving everyone a “fair shot at opportunity,” further revving up the nation’s cost-effective renewable energy sector, working with other countries to solve protracted wars while battling terrorism, and restoring Americans’ trust in the political process.
Praising the power of diversity to forge a stronger future for the nation, Obama properly lashed out at the hate speech spewed by Trump, he of the “Make America great again” motto. The president criticized those who “claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.”
Obama also strongly blasted Trump and far too many other political leaders who have called for rejecting Syrian refugees or blocking Muslims from entering the United States. The president said “we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion.”
Backing the need to keep the country safe in the future, Obama mocked Trump’s constant tripe about America being a weak nation. The president confidently said the U.S. “is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. Period. It’s not even close.” That led into a discussion about the need to continue working with other nations and not going it alone in dealing with ISIS or other rogue actors. That’s the right call.
Obama wrapped up with a gauzy-eyed view of Americans. “I believe in you,” he said. “That’s why I stand here confident that the state of our union is strong.”
Looking ahead, Congress won’t kill Obamacare in 2016, which is good news for millions of American covered by it. Alas, responsible gun control likely won’t happen either.
Still, the next year will give Obama and Congress multiple chances to work together on behalf of the American people. They should seize the opportunities to put in place a bipartisan criminal justice reform package and to try to fix a broken immigration system.
It’s time to take some confident steps into the future that Obama laid out for this nation on Tuesday night.