Trump’s Third State of the Union Address: A Recap

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On February 4, 2020, President Donald J. Trump delivered his third State of the Union Address. In what has been called a “virtuoso performance” by Fox Business, the “strangest” SOTU “ever” by Politico, and “more rhetoric than substance” by Forbes’ healthcare columnist, this SOTU constitutes one of the most controversial, widely debated addresses yet. This is fitting for Trump’s presidency, which has certainly been, if anything, controversial and widely debated. What follows is a concise summary which sums up the most important points.

During the address, a protester interrupted the address by shouting at Trump to do something about gun violence. The protestor was  identified as Fred Guttenberg, who was a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. His 14-year-old daughter was among those killed in the Parkland mass shooting in 2018. The interruption occurred during a section of the speech during which Trump emphasized his support for the 2nd amendment.

During the speech, Trump announced that conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor a President can give. The award was presented by First Lady Melania Trump in the House visitors’ gallery. Limbaugh, a far-right provocateur and passionate Trump supporter, had recently announced that he was battling advanced stage lung cancer. Despite being a partisan media personality, Limbaugh was awarded the medal for his “decades of tireless devotion to our country.”

Juan Guaidó, leader of the failed coup attempt in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, received applause from both Democrats and Republicans as Trump pronounced him the “legitimate [sic] president” of the South American nation. Juan Guaidó is the leader of the unconstitutional so-called ‘National Assembly’ in Venezuela. American imperialist politicians’ support of the coup has drawn criticism from Maduro and the legitimate Venezuelan government, which has attempted to enter into negotiations with Guaidó, even offering to let the Vatican mediate. Guaidó has refused these offers and remains obstinate. In his speech, Trump called Maduro a “tyrant”– however some commentators used that statement to draw attention back the Trump’s impeachment, where he was accused of using foreign power to bolster his domestic political influence and hurt his opponents.

Trump emphasized that the country is in the midst of a “Great American Comeback.” The entire speech was emphatically oriented around the theme of the successes of his administration and the putative positive change the country has undergone over the course of his term. In part, the address anticipates and foreshadows the themes Trump’s reelection campaign is most likely going to consolidate in order to formulate an energizing bid for re-election. The fight against socialism (i.e., the socialization of healthcare proposed either in full or in part by many Democratic presidential candidates) got plenty of time; so did Trump’s claims about the success of the economy — GDP growth, unemployment rates, and so on — many of which have been described as exaggerated by analysts and commentators.

Many Democratic women wore white to the SOTU address to align themselves with the suffragettes. Some Democrats wore green Equal Rights Amendment pins, while others wore red-white-and-blue-striped lapel pins to emphasize the issue of climate collapse.

Taken as a whole, the content of Trump’s address represented a drastic departure from the usual attitudes and atmospheres Presidents attempt to foster in their speeches. Whereas civility, unity, and moderation are typically appealed to, Trump emphasized his partisan victories, the danger of his opponents’ views, and the energy generated by his political victories. The Democrats met this unprecedented show with a rebellious spirit: When Trump began talking about prescription drug prices, a group of Dems stood and began chanting “H.R. 3”, a reference to a bill on the same subject. Behind the President, Nancy Pelosi could be seen shuffling papers and glancing around in exasperation. When the President concluded, she stood and tore her ceremonial copy of the speech in half. Of this, she later remarked that since the president “shredded the truth”, she “shredded the speech.”