On Tuesday night, 30 January, President Trump delivered his first State of the Union Address. The speech went over well with the viewing public: a CBS News snap poll of 1,178 viewers showed 75% approving and 25% disapproving (with a margin of error of ±3.1%). The viewership for presidential addresses always skews in favor of the President, since his supporters are more likely to watch; in the present instance, the party identification sampled was 42% Republican, 25% Democrat, and 33% independent; asked before the speech, 52% of the sample self-identified as Trump supporters and 32% self-identified as Trump opponents. The numbers thus show that a number of self-identified opponents of President Trump nevertheless approved of the speech; they also show that the Republican party is unified behind the President, and that his message had appeal beyond the party: the speech was approved by 97% of the Republicans sampled, by 72% of the independents, and even by 43% of the Democrats. Asked specific questions after the speech, the sample favored the immigration proposals outlined by the President 72%-28%, and his infrastructure proposals 91%-9%; asked whether the speech was an attempt to unite or to divide the country, unite beat divide 81%-19%.
Many observers noted how glum and resentful the Democrats looked all night, refusing to clap or stand in response to good economic news and other seemingly non-controversial matters. The 77-year-old House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), spent most of the night looking like she had something stuck in her teeth which she was trying to loosen with her tongue; she was dressed in black, to make some point or other, but, thanks to her morose expression, gave instead the impression of a person in mourning; her frumpy attire was so off-putting that Cher will be hard pressed to refrain from offering constructive criticism on Twitter in the coming days; she was, however, the only prominent Democrat who stood and clapped when the President defended the National Anthem.
The Democrats delivered several responses to the address, but the more or less official one was given in Fall River, Massachusetts, by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), a 37-year-old Congressman now serving his third term. Unfortunately for him, he spoke from a vocational school in front of a car with its hood open, reminding people on social media of the 1967 Olds Delmont 88, owned by his great-grandmother Rose, which his great-uncle Ted drove off the bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in July1969, leaving Mary Jo Kopechne inside. Attracting even more attention than the dark car behind the trust-fund baby, however, were the glistening corners of his mouth; people on social media were especially amused since Pelosi had revealed that she told Democrats not to be disruptive at the SOTU, but to allow President Trump to be “his slobbering self,” and it turned out that Kennedy was the one doing the drooling.
One of the highlights of the speech was the recognition paid to Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who had been shot and nearly killed in June 2017 by a deranged individual.
After the first address by President Trump to Congress, 11 months ago, Van Jones said that the speech had been very presidential, but he was forced to change his mind a few days later, following harsh criticism from others on the left. Philippe Reines, a former senior advisor to Hillary Clinton, seems to have had the fate of Van Jones in mind when he claimed, on the Laura Ingraham show on FOX after the speech, that Trump had been presidential, but had somehow hurt himself with his supporters thereby, since he had got elected by being unpresidential; Reines further denied that the President had helped himself on the ground that next week no one would remember anything which he had said; Charlie Hurt, opinion editor of the Washington Times, countered that people would remember the line “Americans are dreamers, too”. Michael Reagan, in an interview on Newsmax, similarly judged that that line “will go down in history, and will outlive Donald Trump.” That was indeed the single best and most memorable line of the speech, and reportedly the one which rankled Democrats the most.
But the most memorable moment in the speech was the introduction of North Korean refugee Ji Seong-ho, who now lives in Seoul and broadcasts the truth to the North; the account of his suffering and flight to freedom was the most inspiring story ever told at a State of the Union Address. Trump matched the eloquence of Reagan, who, being President during the Cold War as he was, often had occasion to stress the evil of communism, but what made this true story surpass all such others was attitude of Seong-ho himself, who had a tear rolling down his cheek while the President was speaking, but then stood from his seat in the gallery as the President ended his remarks and defiantly raised his old crutches in the air.
The text of the speech is said to have been written principally by Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor to the President, and Rob Porter, White House Staff Secretary. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, interviewed on Wednesday morning by Maria Bartiromo, judged that “the total speech was comparable to one of Reagan’s better speeches, and actually the most effective use of people who were guests to teach lessons…. I thought that was integrated better than I’ve ever seen it by anybody, including Reagan.” Michael Reagan observed that the President “did a great job with the teleprompter, in delivering the speech.” The success of President Trump’s first State of the Union Address, however, does bring about one long-term problem: it sets an exacting standard against which his future SOTU Addresses will be measured.