Like every Donald Trump speech, the President’s second State of the Union speech was all over the place and offered a little of everything.
Soaring rhetoric. Smug ad-libbing. In-your-face audience-baiting. And naturally, big-time, over-the-top boasting. (We would be at war with North Korea had Trump not been elected? Seriously?)
Along with the SOTU’s usual legislative laundry lists and living drama, in the form of a world-record long parade of inspirational balcony guests and likely the first spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday” in a national address.
State of the Union: A Sluggish Start
Yet in the oration’s early moments, a surreal somnambulance seemed to settle over the President and the chamber. After mailing in introductions of three World War II veterans and Apollo 11 astronaut-hero Buzz Aldrin, the Chief Executive launched into an almost lyrical and uplifting passage that — on paper — might have done my hero, the Great Communicator, proud.
It was practically a primer on political speechifying, featuring elevated rhetoric; long, rhythmic series; contrasting pairs and groups of three; a sprinkling of alliteration; appeals to unity, patriotism and optimism. And not one but two calls to action: “We must create a new standard of living for the 21st century” (a terrific theme the President should return to — and soon), and “I ask you to choose greatness” (a higher-toned articulation of the Trumpian “Make America Great Again” slogan).
Yet he delivered what should have been a stirring segment and impassioned plea in a practically whispered monotone with a thoroughly dispassionate expression. (I dunno — was he still under a spell from the Stupor Bowl two days before?)
But much worse was what was happening in the “sea of suffragette white” worn by Democratic women Congresswomen. In gleaming uniforms and stone-faced expressions, they came across less as legislators and more as a cohort of Stepford women, creepily programmed not to offer the President any vestige of bipartisan encouragement.
State of the Union: Trump Comes Alive
Suddenly, though, something happened. The President woke up, thanks to another inspired device from his speechwriting squad. An impassive recitation of the impressive achievements of his Administration was punctuated with a confident statement that often comes at the top of the speech: “the State of the Union is strong.”
Instantly, the hall came to life, with Republican members chanting “USA.” And the President was soon baiting his audience with a jab at “foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous, partisan investigations.”
Then he was off, launching into a call for action on stalled judicial nominations; a reminder of recent legislative compromises between the parties; an impassioned defense of his immigration policy; red meat for his base on abortion and Israel; and an overlong menu of policy proposals and positions. All the while mixing in (too many) moving stories of reformed inmates, a child with cancer, concentration camp survivors and a soldier who helped liberate them.
But although President Trump found his feet, the Democrats in his audience all too rarely found theirs. He did coax the women in white into a display of mutual mirth with good news about female employment and the record number of their gender in Congress.
Yet Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lips were largely locked in pursed mode. The face of the millennials, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to look down her row for affirmation before deigning to rise to an applause line about rescuing immigrant women and children from sex trafficking — while presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand remained glued to her seat. Fellow White House wannabe Kamala Harris incredibly sat shaking her head at the President’s emphatic insistence on “putting ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers out of business.”
And far too many Democrats joined self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders in remaining motionless at the 45th President’s statement of resolve that “that America will never be a socialist country.”
State of the Union: Terrible Optics for Dems
The President concluded with a far-stronger delivery of a terrific, poetic recounting of what we have accomplished and who we are as a nation as a prelude to one last call “to rekindle the bonds of love and loyalty and memory that link us together as citizens, as neighbors, as patriots.” It was reminiscent of the moving closings of campaign rally addresses pledging that “forgotten Americans” would be “forgotten no more” — which gave the first hint that something was stirring in the heartland.
In appealing to his fellow leaders to join him in putting these working-class people first, President Trump rediscovered his voice.
But Florida Rep. Lois Frankel had promised in a pre-speech tweet that her ivory-clad colleagues would be “sending the message loud and clear.” The problem is that they and fellow Democrats were sending a message to their fellow Americans: “resistance” has deeply infected their party’s bloodstream and “investigation” is engraved in its agenda.
While President Trump snapped out of it to save a presentation that was in equal parts disjointed and delightful, his opposition never awoke to a simple reality: the white garb may have been dazzling, but the overall optics of openly rejecting his olive branch were not good.
- Maistros is a messaging and communications strategist, crisis specialist and former political speechwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Author: JOHN MERLINE