Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech was a cry for help

Giving him a hand.
Giving him a hand.
Image: Reuters/Doug Mills
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

After a bruising two years of referring to Democrats as the “party of crime” and mocking Democratic critics of his often extremist policies, Donald Trump pleaded for their cooperation in his State of the Union address last night (Feb. 5).

“We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution,” Trump said to a room crowded with new House Democrats, many of them women wearing white, a nod to the outfit suffragettes adopted at the turn of the 20th century and to Hillary Clinton’s all-white pantsuit when she accepted her party’s nomination for president in 2016.

The US is in the midst of an “economic miracle,” Trump said, “and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.” He added, “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

“Here tonight, we have legislators from across this magnificent republic,” Trump said, citing the “rocky shores of Maine and the volcanic peaks of Hawaii,” the ”snowy woods of Wisconsin and the red deserts of Arizona.” Together, he said, “we represent the most extraordinary nation in all of history,” and we “must choose whether we are defined by our differences—or whether we dare to transcend them.”

But investigation there is

Trump’s presidential campaign is under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which has already charged 30 people—including several of his campaign advisors. Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating his inauguration committee and his former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison for campaign-finance violations. The Democrats now in control of the House have started probes of his cabinet members, his immigration policies, and his command of the US military.

And Trump is losing Republican supporters too. Most Americans blamed him for the 35-day federal government shutdown and Republican lawmakers have no stomach for another shutdown just to get Trump the billions he wants for a border wall.

Wearing a shiny, slightly crooked red tie, the president tried to strike a balance between finding common ground with the Democrats and delivering the red meat his far-right Republican supporters have loved. He honored childhood cancer patients and Holocaust survivors as honored guests, as well as the police officers who stopped the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter last year and the father of a Navy seaman who was killed in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

Bipartisan moments of levity

When Trump bragged about all the “newly created jobs” for women in the past year, House Democrats stood up and cheered each other. “Thank you,” Trump said, seeming to take credit for them being elected—fair enough, given many ran on a platform of opposing his presidency.

When he highlighted the record number of women in Congress, it drew thunderous applause and shouts of “USA, USA!” from Democrats.

A Pence moment for Pelosi

Even as he spoke, House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Twitter account was challenging his words, and questioning his ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Members of Congress, and the president himself, invited dozens of politically connected guests to the event, including several parents of Parkland massacre victims, transgender soldiers, and two mothers whose kids were taken from them at the US-Mexico border, and the issues they represent were top of mind after the speech.

“When Donald Trump talks about compromise, what he really means is capitulation,” senator Edward Markey, the Democrat from Massachusetts, said. “There is an opportunity to work together…but only if president Trump actually understands what true compromise requires.”

It will take “days” to “fact-check all the misrepresentations that the president made tonight,” Pelosi said in a statement after the speech. “Instead of fear-mongering and manufacturing a crisis at the border, president Trump should commit to signing the bipartisan conference committee’s bill to keep government open and provide strong, smart border-security solutions.”

After Trump’s speech ended, Democrats filed out quickly, while Republicans stayed to shake his hand. The House chamber emptied out, photographers stationed outside noted, except for Pelosi and vice president Michael Pence, who remained behind as the room darkened, talking together with their backs to the door.