Donald Trump’s poetic paeans to national unity did not magically transform his presidency. Wednesday morning, he will sure as shouting revert to being the juvenile, vindictive, mercurial, divisive man he has always been.
That said, it is better even for a born bomb-thrower like Trump to at least gesture toward a common national purpose, and to look to bring representatives together across bitter divides.
He did that Tuesday night in a solid, steady State of the Union address.
The biggest opportunity for figurative bridge-building now is literal bridge-building — finding and funding infrastructure projects of national need, especially in and around aging big cities like New York, where problems are most pressing.
For the region and the nation to meet its economic potential over the long term, it has no choice but to upgrade rusting tunnels, roads and rail systems; improve energy grids; defend against rising sea levels; and more.
The broad outlines of the plan the President sketched Tuesday night were a far cry from what he advertised during his campaign, when he spoke of a sweeping, 10-year plan.
Those grand designs vanished in his first year as Trump tended to partisan priorities: He squandered trillions on a deficit-busting tax cut mainly benefiting the wealthiest Americans while slashing investments, including in infrastructure.
Belatedly, Trump begins to unroll a blueprint offering far less in federal funds intended to activate state, local and, above all, private investment. (Meantime, the feds would foot the whole bill for Trump’s beloved border wall, an obscenely expensive, unnecessary and counterproductive symbol.)
We’re all for building faster, cheaper and smarter; the stalled Gateway tunnel plans, for example, were way too pricey for their own good. But going to great lengths to minimize direct federal investment would mean consigning many urgent projects to the dust bin, while prioritizing those that happen to attract private-sector dollars.
Far wiser would be generating revenue by increasing the federal gas tax, which is just 18.4 cents and hasn’t been raised since 1993 — then working closely with local officials, Democrat and Republican, to prioritize public projects.
Nobody is looking for something for nothing. But states and cities like New York already send far more to Washington than they see back; that imbalance will only grow under new tax law.
The President must engage in honest negotiations to answer the crying needs of cities rather than advertising the promise of profound change while doing nothing real on, or under, the ground.