In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump was relentlessly positive about the good things that could be accomplished if we set aside our differences and work together.
“This is, in fact, our new American moment,” he said, adding that “all of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family can do anything.”
“I call on all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people,” he said, adding that he was “extending an open hand to work with members on both parties” on a range of issues, including investment in a “safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs.”
Americans gravitated toward the message. A CBS News poll found that three-quarters of Americans who watched the State of the Union approved of the address. Eight in 10 Americans felt that the president was trying to unite the country, rather than divide it. Perhaps most tellingly, 97 percent of Republicans approved of the speech, along with 72 percent of independents and 43 percent of Democrats.
High approval from independents is a powerful sign that Trump’s message of working together was landing well among moderate voters, but the relatively high approval among Democrats suggest that the unified resistance that Democrats have been attempting to cultivate may not be coming to fruition. Unsurprisingly to anyone but the most liberal among us, Americans are looking for progress, regardless of who sits behind the Resolute desk.
Based on their snap response to the State of the Union, Democrats appear to be misreading the moment. The president’s call for unity and bipartisan action offered a stark contrast to many of the Democrats in the audience, who attempted, through the only tool they had—facial expressions—to maintain their “resistance.”
The scowling faces and refusal to applause was most evidence during President Trump’s recitation of the economic good news that has flowed the last few months.
“Together, we are building a safe, strong and proud America,” Trump said. “Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs … we are finally seeing rising wages … [and] [u]nemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.”
Trump went out of his way not to paint those economic milestones with a partisan brush, instead choosing to use the inclusive “we,” and yet Democrats still could not bring themselves to applaud. Apparently, economic success—whatever the cause—is not good for everyone, regardless of party. Part of the problem, as Jim Talent notes in National Review, is that Democrats have left themselves no good options:
But the Democrats were in a box on this one. If they applauded, it would look like they agreed with what the president was saying — and remember that six weeks ago they not only voted against the tax bill but predicted doom if it passed. On the other hand, not applauding made them look churlish. They might have compromised by applauding perfunctorily, but there’s a good chance that would have pleased no one.
It was a tough position to be in, but that’s what happens when the facts on the ground prove you so wrong so quickly, and your political opponents have a high-profile occasion to take advantage of it.
Refusing to applaud, even for a 12-year-old boy whom Trump praised for putting flags on soldiers’ graves, was a bad look. But the most telling aspect of Democrats’ collective response to the State of the Union was the lack of cohesion. Ed Rogers writes for the Washington Post:
Democrats could not appear more fractured in the aftermath of Trump’s State of the Union address. Democrats scheduled six separate responses to the president’s address — the official response, the Spanish-language response, the Sen. Bernie Sanders response, the socialist response, the Rep. Maxine Waters response and the celebrity response. It signifies a party that doesn’t know who they are.
All they know is who they are against. And President Trump is the physical embodiment of that. Perhaps there is a time and place for that kind of defiant resistance. Politics often rewards decisive stands. But that time and place is surely not the State of the Union, especially during celebrations of working-class economic progress and calls for bipartisanship.