State of the Union 2020: Trump’s Time to Shine


Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President Trump lauded economic prosperity, attacked Democrats, awarded a Medal of Freedom, and addressed upcoming legislation in the final address of his first term.

By Robert Mullins, Reporter

On Tuesday evening, President Trump addressed a joint session of Congress to fulfill his Constitutional duty of reporting on the State of the Union. Reception to his speech has been mixed, but there is one element virtually all pundits can agree on: the President’s conduct was nothing if not memorable. The most interesting facet of Trump the politician is his penchant to turn any public appearance into a performance, his predilection for the pomp and circumstance of state affairs transforms them into truly unforgettable events. This unique manner in which he brands himself, a callback that goes all the way back to his early days as a real estate mogul in New York was on full display in the halls of Congress. With Trump, we see a State of the Union that in its essence is half a preview of the coming year’s legislative agenda, and just as much a rally to fire up support among the GOP base.

The president made his entrance among chants of “Four more years!” from members of Congress. After snubbing Nancy Pelosi’s attempt at a handshake, Trump dived into a litany of boasts about economic development under his administration, chief among them that the unemployment rate was the lowest it has been in half a century. The timing could not be better for Trump economically speaking, at a time where forty percent of Americans feel they are better off financially than they were same time last year, according to a poll conducted by the New York Times. Coupled with the president’s expression of fiscal optimism came a blistering indictment of the Obama administration. He states triumphantly that the “years of economic decay are over,” a nod to the eight years of slow GDP growth seen under President Obama.

Trump then paused while recognizing guests to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, a conservative commentator who recently announced a diagnosis of lung cancer to his radio audience. Limbaugh sat next to Melania Trump, who hung the medal around his neck, which Republicans in the chamber greeted with a standing ovation. The pro-Trump radio host was moved to tears as he was honored by the president, who thanked him for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”

One of the few actual policy proposals of the night came when the president drew attention to two potential healthcare bills that now have biparstisan support, one concerning surprise billing, and the other prescription drugs. He mentioned discussions with chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to pass legislation to lower the price of prescription drugs. “Get a bill on my desk, and I will sign it into law immediately,” he declared, to the dismay of the Democrats in the chamber. When he said this, the members on the left side of the aisle began to chant “HR 3! HR 3!”, the title of a prescription drug price bill that passed the House last year. It has since been stranded on Mitch McConnel’s desk, whose affectionate nickname of the “Grim Reaper” should shed light on the bill’s future.

In the last of several made-for-TV moments, Trump recognized a military spouse. He introduced Amy Williams from Fort Bragg, N.C., along with her two children. Trump described how her husband, Sergeant First Class Townsend Williams has been serving a deployment in Afghanistan. Trump stated it was Williams’ fourth deployment to the Middle East, and after thanking Mrs. Williams for her service, he announced her husband was home and in the audience. At the conclusion of the president’s remarks, the palpable tension between Trump and Pelosi became overtly obvious when Pelosi tore up her hard copy of the address.

For all the attempts made at bipartisanship, it seems the speech will be remembered instead for how strictly partisan it was. Petty behavior abounded from the beginning with the president refusing to shake Speaker Pelosi’s hand, to Pelosi tearing his speech in two at the tail-end. Also abundant were displays of symbolism, with many of Trump’s guests serving to personify his administration’s agenda and priorities. However, the most blatant symbol of the night appears to be the two pieces of Speaker Pelosi’s copy of the speech, which could portend the future of the country’s political discourse if the behavior exhibited in tonight’s display continues.