President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union speech had a particular set of goals: talking up the economy and job creation, outlining a plan to keep the U.S. safe and, apparently, getting Democrats to frown on camera.
For the most part, he succeeded.
Democrats did their best to show their displeasure with Trump’s address—with many lawmakers rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and groaning at some of the president’s remarks. Others looked down at their cell phones for much of the evening.
Even before Trump started, the indifference and rancor was evident. When the president made his way to the podium, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) remained seated, reading a newspaper.
The structure of the speech seemed designed, at times, to produce this imagery. Trump led with positive economic news and a rundown of companies investing in the United States or awarding their employees raises or bonuses. With cameras attuned to the members of Congress in the crowd, the economic talking points produced memorable dichotomies between the ostensibly positive news heralded from the podium and the sour faces of congressional Democrats in the crowd.
The reactions delighted members of the administration who felt, early on, that the visuals of the evening would be as important as the speech itself. The day before the address, the White House had summoned some of the president’s trusted allies and outside advisers to the Entrance Hall in the official residence in order to give marching orders and a pep talk. Trump noted that they all had to “fight” because the news coverage of his presidency has been so negative, and mentioned that it was nice to be surrounded by friends who go on TV to say “nice” things about him for a change.
The one reaction to a SOTU I still remember is: "You lie!" Despite the blatant racism, insult, and violation of decorum of that outburst, Republicans went on to win big in the mid-terms that year.
Frowning on camera? That's your measure of success? That doesn't bury the bar, it throws it on the trash heap.