Student guide: Trump’s First State of the Union address

Thursday, February 1, 2018


President Trump’s State of the Union address was the third longest in U.S. history (1 hour and 20 minutes!). In order to save time, use these clips with your students.


1. President Trump spoke of American values and the economy during his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He said all Americans will benefit from his tax cut, new jobs and a soaring stock market.

2. Trump called for stricter immigration laws, reiterated his support of the border wall, keeping the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, open and an immigration system that ends the visa lottery in favor of merit-based immigration.

  • “It is time to reform these outdated immigration rules, and finally bring our immigration system into the 21st century,” Trump said.
  • Trump was booed by some Democrats after he criticized the U.S.’ current family-based migration policy, saying immigrants can bring in “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.” Policy experts have said this is not how current immigration policy works (factcheck via Politico).

3. President Trump said the U.S. must rebuild its nuclear arsenal and praised North Korean defector Ji Seong-Ho. It is customary that the president highlights a few remarkable persons who are invited to attend the address. Seong-Ho currently lives in Seoul, where he works to help fellow defectors.

4. Massachusetts’ Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who gave the Democratic response, spoke directly to the #MeToo movement and to Dreamers. Kennedy discussed the fears felt by Americans in the last year, including income inequality, the government shutdown, Russian election meddling and a “Justice Department rolling back civil rights by the day.”

Video #1: Trump said there has never been a better time to start living the American Dream (:38s)


Video #2: Trump talks of limiting family-based migration (5m40s)


Video #3: Trump calls North Korean defector an inspiration (2m:27s)


Video #4: In the Democratic Response, Representative Joe Kennedy says ‘This is not right. This is not who we are’ (1m:09s)

Discussion questions

  1. Essential question:  What is the main purpose of the U.S. president’s State of the Union address?
  2. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of President Trump’s speech?
  3. ‘There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream,’ Trump said. What is the American Dream? Do you agree with Trump’s statement? Explain your response.
  4. What topics did President Trump steer away from? Why do you think this was the case?
  5. Why did some Democrats boo the President when he discussed “chain” or family-based migration? Do you agree with this action? Why or why not?
  6. What did Rep. Kennedy mean when he said, “And this nagging, sinking feeling, no matter your political beliefs, that this is not right. This is not who we are.”?

Extension activity

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.  @NewsHourExtra