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OPINION: Del. Plaskett Explains Why She Will Never Attend Another Trump State of the Union Speech

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I did not have high expectations for this year’s State of the Union address. But I expected that the President would be duty bound to address the devastation wrought by hurricanes Irma and Maria and give his administration’s plans for rebuilding, and therefore I felt it was necessary to be present when that outline was given.

I also hoped to hear President Trump’s plan to provide this Republican-led Congress with a road map to address the lingering infrastructure issues impacting the nation and the territories.

I was hoping to hear a definitive message of inclusion. It was billed as a speech that would unite the nation. I had hoped that the address would encourage American citizens who are still in recovery from devastating natural disasters.

It is why I invited a young Virgin Islander from St. Thomas displaced, along with his family, after Hurricane Irma.

Instead, we heard a long rally speech rife with platitudes, embellishments, racist undertones and the typical misstatement of facts which have become commonplace in this president’s rhetoric. It spoke to a small portion of the nation, one that excluded so many.

President Trump gave one sentence for the millions of American citizens living in hurricane-ravaged areas. Areas that still lack fully functioning hospitals and medical support, operable schools and in some areas electricity and running water. His sentence gave no design or plan for addressing the needs of American islands, which have long been neglected by the country.

True to form, the president spent a great deal of time claiming credit for success not his own. He touted economic gains which inarguably have nothing to do with the first year of his presidency or his policies. In fact, he took credit for economic growth statistics that are part of a now decade-long trend, and which most economists attribute to the policies of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. African-American unemployment moved from 16 to 7.8 percent under President Obama. The movement in the last year to 6.8 percent is seen by some economists as a continuation of a downward trend or possibly a re-election of individuals who have given up looking for work.

My colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and I sat stoically, not only because we are keenly aware of this fact, but because this president used the State of the Union address to weaponize ignorant and bigoted perceptions and perpetuated the false narratives and the hateful divisions that fueled his 2016 campaign.

This president shamelessly used the State of the Union address to attack American citizens exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest police brutality. Citizens who by kneeling show an almost prostrate prayer for their country founded on liberty and justice to extend it for so many who feel without that protection.

This president shamelessly used the State of the Union address to double-down on his bigoted, ill-informed views on immigration, by suggesting America — the land of the free and the land of opportunity — revert to a “merit-based immigration system” of entry.

“Merit-based,” as if immigrants utilizing the diversity lottery system, particularly those who migrate from African, and Caribbean countries, are not among some of the most educated young people in America, and who are more likely to start small businesses, boosting our economy, in their respective communities.

Let me remind you: I did attend the inauguration of Donald Trump. While at his State of the Union speech I sat stone-faced because, while I respect the presidency, I do not have respect for a president who would use the inuence
of the presidency to cast aspersions on the proud and hardworking people of Haiti and the countries in Africa.

As President Trump spoke of the Statue of Freedom guarding over the Capitol Dome, that iconic symbol of this country, he, of course, did not mention that the statue was cast, designed and built by a slave. How ironic that a man whose economic success in present office is in large part based on the work of a black man would neglect to mention the African slave labor that made the statue he extols; a President that does not recognize that countries like America and even Norway are great in large part because of the sweat, resources, and riches taken by those countries from the Caribbean and African nations.

Many of the jingoism and rhetoric of the State of the Union were painful to listen to but what was most notable and disappointing was what and who was excluded from the American fabric in the 80-minute speech. The strong, resilient people of the Virgin Islands was not in that speech. Hardworking, loving immigrants and frightened Dreamers were not in the speech. My beautiful, intelligent black sons and daughter were not in that speech. And that is why if this President has another State of the Union address, I will not attend.

— Stacey E. Plaskett is Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Caribbean region since 1989. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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