President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address began with a snub to Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she extended her hand across the dais for the customary greeting. It ended with a visibly annoyed Pelosi ripping the copy of her speech and slamming it down on the table.
And those were the boring parts of the event.
Trump, the reality television expert, turned the hour-and-a-half long address into, well, a reality show.
He gave a young schoolgirl a scholarship, surprised conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh with the presidential medal of freedom, and shocked a wife and her two children when her military-clad husband emerged from the darkness and hugged her warmly after getting back from his last deployment.
There were jubilant cheers when Trump introduced guest of honour Charles McGee, one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airman who just celebrated his 100th birthday.
There were tears when the president referenced Kayla Mueller, the 26-year old American aid worker who was kidnapped, sexually abused, and killed by now deceased Isis chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
And there was almost cult-like praise from Republican lawmakers whenever Trump opened his mouth. As one lawmaker told Trump as he left the Capitol, “Absolutely brilliant Mr. president. What you did was awesome.”
Democrats definitely didn’t think Trump’s performance was “awesome.” They looked on with stupefied contempt, sitting in their seats with gazed expressions on their faces. Pelosi would have liked to be anywhere else but in the same frame as Trump as he was boasting about his alleged successes.
One Democrat was scrolling through her phone. Others heckled. Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment manager who prosecuted the case against Trump, was cool on the outside but likely hot with rage on the inside. The worst kept secret in Washington is that Democrats think Trump is a dolt, a demagogue, and a criminal. Nobody expected them to clap and cheer.
Republicans were all smiles, as if the night was one, big party designed to rub excrement in the noses of Democrats for failing to take Trump down after over three months of impeachment investigations. That Trump was spouting nonsense at times has never stop the GOP from kissing the ring before, and it certainly didn’t stop them last night either. The whole spectacle served as a reminder that the Republican party is a puppet and Trump is the puppeteer.
As for Trump himself, the prime-time televised speech was an opportunity to crow about his perceived accomplishments in an election year. Every sentence was a campaign slogan. “Jobs are booming.” “Our country is thriving and is highly respected again.” “In just the three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline.” Unemployment is at a record low. Seven million jobs have been created. America is producing more oil and gas than ever before. The Chinese are no longer eating America’s lunch on trade. Factories are being built. Corporations are bringing jobs back into the United States. And illegal immigrants with violent histories are being arrested and deported.
For most Americans, the State of the Union has become one of those stupid Washington traditions. While it may be constitutionally required, the speech itself is less about informing the nation about what has gone on over the last year and more about setting the narrative for the year ahead. It’s just an extension of America’s never-ending political campaign.
On this, Trump likely succeeded.