The night of theatrics as Trump aims for reelection

The Republican-led Senate was expected to acquit Trump of charges of power abuse and obstruction of the Congress. So the day before the Senate renders its verdict in the president’s impeachment trial Donald Trump delivered his victorious speech to a joint session of Congress. The president opted to not to mention the subject of his impeachment in the speech. However, emotional and at times even aggressive intonation gave out Trump’s injured ego.

That night in the US government was extremely tense and particularly theatrical. Seeing US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, Trump declined to shake her outstretched hand as he gave her a copy of the speech. Pelosi, in her turn, declined to introduce the President and ripped her speech.

Pelosi later told a Fox News producer that it was the “courteous thing to do”, given her other options.

Trump presented himself as a big improvement over Democratic President Barack Obama, whom he succeed three years ago.

“In just three short years we have shattered the mentality of American decline and we have rejected the downsizing of America’s destiny,” he said. The House impeachment managers, who are acting as prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, were seated together at the front of the Democrats’ section.

At the top of his speech, Donald Trump said that he was building “the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society”.

The use of the word “inclusive” wasn’t by chance. Throughout his speech, the president made repeated overtures to minority groups in America – groups that, according to polls, view the president with considerable scepticism.

Trump spoke of how he had signed criminal justice reform and funded historically black colleges and universities. He specifically noted the low levels of unemployment for “African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans”.

An incumbent president’s election-year State of the Union address typically foreshadows the themes of the campaign. If that’s the case, Donald Trump speech makes clear he’s going to bet his presidency on the state of economy.

Among his guests were the last surviving member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the all-black World War II fighter wing group, and his great-grandson. Trump announced that he was awarding an “opportunity scholarship” to a young black girl to attend a private school in Philadelphia.

When talk turned to immigration, the president called out Raul Ortiz, who he recently appointed to deputy chief of Border Patrol.

Deputy Chief of US Border Patrol Raul Ortiz listens to Mr Trump’s third State of the Union address

In Tuesday night’s speech, Trump – the inveterate showman – took things one step further. Besides the “opportunity scholarship moment”, he also paused mid-speech to have his wife award conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and to surprise a military wife and her family by reuniting them with her husband, an Army sergeant who had spent the past seven months in Afghanistan.

Talk show host and conservative hero Rush Limbaugh flashes a thumbs up after being recognised by the president

“We couldn’t keep him waiting any longer,” the president said, in a moment that seemed plucked from script of a daytime talk show.

There were also moments during the address itself where tension boiled over. The president attacked Democratic proposals to abolish private health insurance in blunt language, saying he “would never let socialism destroy US healthcare”. He also engaged in an extended attack on the Democratic-run states of New York and California for their immigration policies.

When the president spoke about gun rights, a member of the audience – the father of a child killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida – was removed from the chamber for shouting his objections.

Throughout the president’s speech, his lines were frequently greeted by raucous cheers from the Republican legislators, while Democrats sat in stony silence or howled in anger.

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