The State of the Union address, initiated by George Washington in 1790, is an annual speech that outlines the accomplishments of the ongoing administration from the previous year, while introducing an agenda for the upcoming year. Although the speech is optional, stipulated by section 3, clause I of Article II of the U.S. Constitution, it has become an expected Presidential duty. Its overall objective is to update the world on the economic and socio-political situation of the United States, summarised in one commonly routine statement: “The state of the Union is great!”
Due to the discourses’ popularity, high viewership, and lengthy uninterrupted, undisputed platform, Presidents tend to exaggerate their administration’s success in an attempt to assist their party and their own reelection. Naturally, the party that does not occupy the seat of the executive cannot promptly rebut, so they protest to the highest degree they traditionally can, by sitting quietly while exhibiting body language that suggests disapproval.
In the SOTU 2020, Donald Trump used his platform as a campaigning opportunity, particularly speaking to an attentive society about his major accomplishments promised to be delivered from 2016. Trump primarily highlighted the country’s economic boom. He stated his economic policy, specifically that of his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, has resulted in the largest economic growth in American history, the creation of seven million jobs, unprecedented income growth across all economic classes, one of the lowest recorded unemployment rates in American history, and the alleviation of seven million Americans from food stamps. Trump also touted the completion of 100 miles of southern border wall with plans to finish another 500 over the upcoming years; and the defeat of ISIS.
Post-address polls suggest that Trump’s SOTU speech had been successful with his targeted base, properly identified by one distinct statement asserted during the February 5th discourse, “This [economy] is a blue-collar boom!” Trump’s self-stated achievements may have been well-received by Republicans, but faced intense backlash from Democrats for fraudulence; being fact-checked by nearly every center/left news publication in the U.S. Yet, the accusation of spreading lies was only a minor controversy from the 2020 SOTU address.
Democrats, also hoping to help their party in an election victory, deployed many tactics that did not go unnoticed during the event. Numerous Democrats displayed copies of the Constitution to remind viewers of the impeachment of Donald Trump. One representative in particular, House of Representatives Judiciary Chairman and Senate Impeachment Manager Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), went so far as to appear deviled into a study of the Constitution before the speech’s inception. Other than impeachment reminders, 90 female representatives wore white to “display unity and commitment to defending the rights of women and the disenfranchised” after a refreshed sexual assault allegation against Donald Trump was dropped days before the event.
Controversy continued to unfold once the President entered Congress. Beginning with Trump denying the outstretched hand of Speaker Pelosi who attempted to show a sign of cordiality. Mid-speech, Trump unprecedentedly awarded the Medal of Freedom to the controversial right-wing political commentator Rush Limbaugh, which faced intense critisim from Democrats who claim that Limbaugh does not deserve to be awarded the same civilian prize given to Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. Further along, Republicans reacted to a Trump statement by filling the chamber with the chant “Four More Years!” to exemplify their delight. Finally, topped-off with possibly the most controversial SOTU address action ever seen in American history; Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House sitting directly behind President Trump, rips the speech in half on national television.
This traditional and supposedly elegant display of American respectability fell subject to our times of great polarization by the deployment of political messaging and election tactics. Although it is quite normal to exaggerate the accomplishments and fraudulence of an administration for political gain, the 2020 State of the Union address exhibited unprecedented displays of protest and concurrence, which may allow for similar actions to be replicated in the future. As the presidential election season speeds-up, expect to see more political controversy as Americans vote for the next leader of this evenly fragmented nation.
Here is another article by Angelo D’Agostini