An emboldened Donald Trump bragged about the “great American comeback” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, in a speech resembling an 81-minute re-election rally that prompted the most powerful woman in Congress to rip up her copy of the speech on national television.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she tore up the address, which he delivered on the eve of the verdict in his impeachment trial, because she couldn’t find “one page with truth on it”.
Only the third president to be impeached in US history, Trump addressed a joint chamber of Congress on the eve of his almost certain acquittal by Republican loyalists in the US Senate. Despite the ignominy of that position, he struck an upbeat, at times euphoric, tone.
“In just three short years, we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” Trump began, to shouts of “Four more years!” from Republicans in the chamber. “We are moving forward at a pace that was unimaginable just a short time ago, and we are never going back!”
This is not the first time a president has delivered a State of the Union speech in the midst of impeachment. Bill Clinton was still three weeks away from acquittal for lying in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he gave his State of the Union in 1999.
But Trump also faces an election, now only nine months away. As such it was no surprise that the theme of the speech was the “great American comeback”.
The president delivered a speech rippling with jingoism, xenophobia and untruths just feet away from the Democratic leaders who inflicted on him the impeachment trial that he has tried so hard to dismiss as a “witch-hunt”.
Several Democrats, including Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, walked out during the speech. One senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, compared it to a “2020 campaign rally”.
“It was a total mistake for Democrats to be there. That was a 2020 campaign rally; that was not a State of the Union,” he said. “I regret stepping one foot inside.”
But Pelosi’s protest overshadowed all others. As Trump came up to the podium, Pelosi reached out to shake his hand. In a striking moment, the president declined to return the gesture. She had the last laugh, though: the moment he finished speaking she calmly tore in half her copy of his script.
Republicans quickly seized on the moment, with former speaker Newt Gingrich accusing Pelosi of “childishness”.
“Next week, when the president presents his budget, the American people will see the stark reality of his agenda,” Pelosi later said in a statement defending the move. “A federal budget should be a statement of our national values, and the president has sadly shown that he does not value the good health of the American people.”
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When you don’t shake hands with a “molisano” (a person originally from the tiny Italian region Molise like Nancy Pelosi and myself) this is quite expectable 😂🤣 https://t.co/e5VEG9ODTE
— Antonello Guerrera (@antoguerrera) February 5, 2020
Trump’s advisers and senior Republicans had been pleading with him to take the high ground and focus on positives rather than unloading on his Democratic rivals in the joint chamber of Congress before him. As the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, put it: “Success is the best revenge.”
Hewing to that advice, Trump devoted a lengthy part of his speech to what he called the “roaring” US economy, boasting that it was “the best it has ever been”. Mindful that the economy is certain to be a major – potentially even decisive – factor in November’s election, he ticked off all the electoral blocks that he needs to seduce if he is to have a shot at securing a second term.
He focused on low unemployment rates for African Americans, women, young people, workers without a high-school diploma – all of whom will be critical in November’s poll.
Trump said his administration had created 7m new jobs and reduced unemployment to the lowest in almost half a century. “Our agenda is relentlessly pro-worker, pro-family, pro-growth, and most of all pro-American.”
But in common with his three previous State of the Union addresses, Tuesday night’s was packed with misleading statements, exaggerations and blatant untruths. In one of the most memorable passages, Trump claimed that he was increasing social mobility in America.
“The vision I will lay out this evening demonstrates how we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society – one where every citizen can join in America’s unparalleled success, and where every community can take part in America’s extraordinary rise.”
In fact, income inequality has reached its highest level since the Census Bureau began tracking the data 50 years ago.
Trump also repeated several of his favorite falsehoods in other areas. “We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” he said, when in truth he has encouraged numerous Republican attempts to overturn President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and abolish protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Without naming his presidential rivals, Trump unleashed a ruthless attack on several of them. In particular, he tore into the healthcare plans of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who narrowly came second to Pete Buttigieg in the early results out of the Iowa caucus on Monday.
The “radical left”, he said, wanted to “take away your healthcare, take away your doctor and abolish private insurance entirely”. To ecstatic cheers from his Republican enablers, Trump addressed “those watching at home”, telling them: “Tonight I want you to know we will never let socialism destroy American healthcare.”
That was not the only red meat that Trump threw his base. He hailed a “man beloved of millions of Americans” – the controversial rightwing radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh who has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer – awarding him the presidential medal of freedom.
Among other treats for the ranks of Trump supporters was his pledge to protect second amendment gun rights, backing of the right to pray in public schools, and his name-check for Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the two conservatives he appointed to the supreme court. Most significantly, he returned to the toxic issue with which he initiated his presidential bid in 2015 – his attack on “criminal illegal aliens”.
On foreign policy, Trump was no less contentious. He was self-congratulatory about his “peace plan” for the Middle East, no matter that it has been universally rejected by Palestinians.
He did some more bragging about the assassination last month of Qassem Suleimani, Iran’s top military leader, without referencing the Iranian counter-attack on US troops in an Iraqi base that it provoked.
Among the exceptionally rare moments of concord within the chamber was when Republicans and Democrats stood together to applaud the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó who attended as a guest of the White House. Brief bipartisanship returned when Trump talked of Afghanistan, saying “we are looking to end America’s longest war and bring our troops home”.
But for most of the 81 minutes the president addressed one half of the room, and one half of the nation.DON'T MISS: Download Edujandon.com News app and get latest news updates directly to your phone!