In the midst of an astoundingly busy week in American politics, President Donald Trump took to the Speaker’s rostrum Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress to deliver the annual State of the Union address. It was an evening marked by a number of actions from both sides of the aisle that led to an even more tense environment than was provided by the backdrop of Monday’s Iowa Caucus debacle and Wednesday’s impending Senate vote on the House’s articles of impeachment against the President.
While the ongoing feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump is surely far from a resolution, the choice by the Speaker to extend the customary State of the Union invitation to the President only two days after presiding over the vote to impeach him in the House could have been a sign of more normalized relations to come. All hopes of that timeline coming into existence were dashed soon after the President’s entrance into the House Chamber. After handing Speaker Pelosi a copy of his speech, President Trump immediately turned back toward the crowd in front of him, leaving the Speaker’s outstretched hand grasping nothing but hostile air. Other slighting events occurred during the divisive evening, including clear acts of disapproval from Democratic Congress members at many of the President’s claims of effective policy-making and a lack of applause from that same block when conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom just days after making public his diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.
However, the final and most poignant act of dissatisfaction came at the very end of the President’s speech. Mere seconds after the President uttered the infamous “God bless America” closing, Speaker Pelosi can be seen ripping to pieces the copy of the speech presented to her at the beginning of the address. This performance immediately dominated the discussions of news channel analysts and panels following the President’s exit, and over the past day, has become a symbol of the truly divided nature of the evening. Pelosi later claimed that tearing up the speech was “the courteous thing to do given the alternatives.”
It may come as a great surprise that the single issue putting Congressional Republicans and Democrats at odds with each other, the looming Senate vote to remove the President from office, was not mentioned or even alluded towards a single time over the course of his 85-minute address.
On another note, the night was not without a few moments of collective approval, typical political showmanship, and unbridled joy. In a bit of a surprise move, President Trump acknowledged President Juan Guaidó, who was seated in the gallery, as the rightful leader of Venezuela. This prompted one of the few bipartisan standing ovations of the night, as President Trump pledged American support to those seeking freedom from the dictatorial regime of Nicolas Maduro.
Other actions, such as honoring Charles McGee, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, with the rank of Brigadier General and awarding a Pennsylvania fourth grader with a school-choice based scholarship highlighted a more positive side of the evening, though one event stood out above the rest. While the President was recognizing the wife and children of Sergeant First Class Townsend Williams, the service member made his way down to surprise his family who was unaware he was returning from deployment. The family embraced and waved to those occupying the House Chamber while a minutes-long standing ovation was given for the father’s return.
With the consequential and controversial nature of this specific State of the Union address, Vanderbilt Political Review reached out to student political organizations here on campus to gain an insight into how those within their group viewed the events of Tuesday night.
Young Americans for Liberty at Vanderbilt: “Trump’s State of the Union Address was representative of his presidency. He lauded the state of the economy as if he were single-handedly responsible and twisted some truths about where he stands on some issues to appeal to his base. The loud and constant cheering and booing on the sidelines made the whole ordeal seem like a sports event, and people acted horribly offended by pretty standard Trump posturing.”
VPR also reached out to Vanderbilt College Democrats, Vanderbilt College Republicans, and Vanderbilt Young Democratic Socialists of America, but they had not provided a response as of the time of this article’s publication.