All the science that made it into the State of the Union
Topics included the opioid crisis, nuclear weapons, and "beautiful clean coal."
On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump made his first State of the Union Address. Keeping with the mandate laid out by the U.S. Constitution, which asks the president to report to Congress “such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” Trump touched on his favorite topics, including tax reform, border control, and police heroism. He also touched on science.
Following a week in which the President was roundly criticized for neglecting to appoint a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy and his inaccurate remark that the extent of polar ice have reached record highs (they’re actually at record lows), Trump addressed scientific topics ranging from prescription drugs to energy development.
For your convenience, find below all of the President’s State of the Union comments concerning science. I guess you could call it … the State of the Science.
“We have endured floods, and fires, and storms.”
Trump opened his speech with a reflection on his first year in office, a year plagued by record-breaking natural disasters of all stripes. Despite the fact that a third of Americans in Puerto Rico are still in the dark after Hurricane Maria wiped out the electrical grid more than four months ago, Trump didn’t lay out a vision for disaster response or rebuilding. Instead, he focused on sharing the stories of “forged new American heroes” Coast Guard Petty Officer Ashlee Leppert and firefighter David Dahlberg. Leppert helped rescue people trapped in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Dahlberg rescued children from a summer camp threatened by California wildfires.
“To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, everywhere, we are with you, we love you, and we always will pull through together, always,” Trump said, closing out this segment.
“The individual mandate is now gone.”
While recent efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act were unsuccessful, Republicans in Congress successfully repealed the individual mandate, which required Americans be insured, lest they face a penalty fee. “We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare,” Trump said. “The individual mandate is now gone. Thank heavens.”
“We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.”
Trump didn’t elaborate on this point, but we will. There’s no such thing as clean coal. As Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote for PopSci last year, using coal as energy is an inherently dirty proposition, as the act emit mercury, dangerous particulate matter, and other pollutants into the air. It also emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. Even with existing technical hacks, this remains true.
“We have ended the war on American energy,” he continued. “We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world.” Though he didn’t specify in the speech, he was probably referring to the news that analysts predict, by the end of the year, the United States will be the world’s biggest oil producer. This is thanks in large part to our plentiful natural resources—and to Congress’s efforts back in 2015 to repeal a law that banned American oil from being exported anywhere except to Canada.
“Patients with terminal conditions, terminal illness, should have access to experimental treatment immediately that could potentially save their lives.”
As PopSci‘s Claire Maldarelli explained in a piece this week, the FDA’s process for testing and approving prescription drugs and medical treatments is arduous, but also extremely important. “Before the FDA existed, manufacturers could market and sell any drug without needing to say what’s in it and without needing to show that it could actually treat the thing that you were buying it to treat,” she wrote. “While it’s hard to sit with the idea of potentially losing a medical breakthrough race, it’s important to remember how and why the United States created the FDA in the first place.”
Still, many Americans feel that people who have exhausted all their treatment options should have an easier time accessing experimental treatments. It appears Trump is among them. “To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year, the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our country’s history,” he reflected. “People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure. I want to give them a chance right here at home. It’s time for Congress to give these wonderful, incredible Americans the right to try.”
“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs.”
As Trump switched from a reflection of his first year to his plans for the future, he narrowed in on American pharmaceuticals. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. And it is very, very unfair,” he said. “That is why I directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of my top priorities for the year.” After applause, he added, “And prices will come down substantially. Watch.”
Glen T. Schumock, a pharmaceutical researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told FactCheck.org that the reason drugs cost more in the United States is because Republicans in Congress have, at least historically, resisted regulating the price of drugs.
“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land.”
Trump finally shared (a few) details from his long-awaited infrastructure plan. “Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs,” he said in an attempt to make good on a popular campaign promise. However, as NPR reported in December, it’s likely that the federal government will provide closer to $200 billion, with the rest coming from state and local funds or private investment. In this vein, Trump called for private investment and serious reductions in permitting time.
“America is a nation of builders,” he said. “We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?”
“We must get tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.”
When it came time to address the opioid epidemic, Trump said, “Never before has it been like it is now. It is terrible. We have to do something about it. In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses. 174 deaths per day. Seven per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.”
This statement seems to indicate a misunderstanding about the root of the opioid epidemic. Unlike other drug epidemics, the opioid crisis doesn’t really stem from covert drug making or shady dealers on the streets. Rather, it stems from what appears to be a campaign by pharmaceutical companies to portray prescription pain medication as non-addictive and get painkillers into the hands of Americans through perfectly legal means.
“My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need. For those who have been so terribly hurt,” Trump said, “the struggle will be long and it will be difficult, but as Americans always do, in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail.”
“We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal.”
Right now, the metaphorical Doomsday Clock sits just two minutes to midnight, a number it hasn’t struck since the Cold War. On January 13, a missile alert system falsely informed Hawaii residents that a ballistic missile was inbound to their island state, causing widespread panic. And, as Trump says, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles,” with test missiles that appear capable of reaching the United States.
While there is no consensus among experts, many have expressed concern that verbally antagonizing Kim is counterproductive, or even dangerous. Trump, however, pressed forward. “As part of our defense, we must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal. Hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else,” he said in the address. “Perhaps some day in the future, there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet.”