World

Trump calls for unity after contentious first year

US president focused mainly on domestic concerns in his first State of the Union address

WASHINGTON:  US President Donald Trump appealed on Tuesday for national unity and strong borders in his first State of the Union address, calling for "one American family" after a year marred by acrimony, division and scandal.

Delivering his biggest speech of the year, this most polarising of presidents sought to put the spotlight on a robust economy, while pointedly calling on a packed joint session of Congress to enact tough curbs on immigration.

"Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve," he said.

"Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of nation we are going to be. All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family."

Mr Trump's opening tone was uncharacteristically conciliatory, although it bridged no compromise on his drive to reduce immigration - which he painted as responsible for a plethora of social ills.

He touched on a range of foreign policy issues - including, in an emotive moment, offering the spotlight to crippled North Korean amputee defector Ji Seong-ho, who waved a crutch in the air as he received a prolonged standing ovation.

Mr Trump warned that Pyongyang's "reckless" nuclear drive could "very soon" threaten the US homeland, while also eyeing the geopolitical challenge posed by adversaries China and Russia.

But Mr Trump's State of the Union, the third longest on record at one hour 20 minutes, was overwhelmingly focused on domestic concerns.

BUTTERFLY STICKERS

Among those looking on were dozens of cross-armed Democratic lawmakers, some decked in black to honour the victims of sexual harassment and still others wearing butterfly stickers in support of immigrants - two social issues that more than any others have roiled America in the age of Mr Trump.

Also in the audience were members of Mr Trump's own family, including the first lady, Melania, who recently cancelled a joint trip to Davos, Switzerland, and had not been seen with her husband in public since reports alleged he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels hush money over an affair, which the White House denies.

Breaking with tradition, the first couple arrived separately to the Capitol because, according to the first lady's spokesman Stephanie Grisham, she was accompanying guests.

Mr Trump spoke at length on the need for immigration reform, drawing hisses from the opposition as he equated immigrants with criminality and economic tension and spoke of "chain migration."

For decades, he lamented, "open borders" had allowed "drugs and gangs to pour into" the US. He again called for the construction of a border wall that remains unfunded in Congress.

The 71-year-old touted a long bull run on Wall Street and improving growth rates, something the White House has dubbed a "Trump bump."

Mr Trump lifted his economic gaze beyond the US, calling for "fair" trade and declaring that "the era of economic surrender is over".

He also vowed to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison open - anathema to Democrats and many Republicans.

A CNN poll of people who watched the speech found 48 per cent said they had a "very positive" impression of it. That compared to 57 per cent after Mr Barack Obama's first State of the Union address, the network said. - AFP

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