President Trump drew a clear line Tuesday night between his party’s policies and the creeping socialism some see on the left, declaring at the State of the Union “America will never be a socialist country” as nonplussed Democrat leaders shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
The vow from Trump, whose speech was delayed a week amid a partial government shutdown, came as Democrats have proposed an evolving agenda of Medicare for all, free college tuition, minimum wage increases and even guaranteed basic income. Trump cited the ongoing disaster in Venezuela, where socialist policies have wrought “abject poverty and despair,” and pledged to maintain free-market economics in the U.S.
“America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination and control,” he said to Republican applause. “We are born free and we will stay free.”
“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump added as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat stone-faced behind him.
Viewers at home were treated to a tight shot of a frowning Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist and modern-day godfather of a movement that has produced a host of far-left young Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D- N.Y.
Sanders would tweet following the speech: “Trump said tonight, ‘We are born free, and we will stay free.’ I say to Trump: People are not truly free when they can’t afford health care, prescription drugs, or a place to live. People are not free when they cannot retire with dignity or feed their families.”
The socialism storyline was just one of several dividing lines Trump highlighted in a speech that simultaneously called for bipartisanship and unity.
Trump pledged to pursue his signature project, the wall on the Mexican border, saying: “I will build it.”
“I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country,” Trump said, in a speech that variously referred to both “walls” and “barriers” at the border.
“Simply put, walls work and walls save lives,” Trump added. “So let’s work together, compromise and reach a deal that will truly make America safe. … This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier –not just a simple concrete wall.”
Trump framed border security as a matter of preventing human trafficking, stopping the flow of illegal drugs from Mexico and maintaining federal resources for legal citizens. Democrats, including Ocasio-Cortez, sat on their hands as Trump praised an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, Elvin Hernandez, for breaking up a notorious human trafficking ring.
“I think that the president was unprepared,” Ocasio-Cortez said later Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC. “I don’t think that he did his homework.”