Former reality TV star Donald Trump was in his element during the made-for-TV State of the Union address. But his glowing statements about US policy can’t be taken at face value, writes DW’s Carla Bleiker.
The State of the Union address is one of the most important television appearances of the year for the US president. Seldom can the president directly address the people of his country. The speech typically lasts over an hour and is broadcast live on television. For Donald Trump, who loves nothing as much as an enthusiastic audience, it is surely a dream come true.
Trump piled on the praise with a heavy hand from the start of his speech. The economy, he swooned, was in the best state ever. Since he took office, the unemployment rate is lower than ever before and the number of people receiving food stamps has fallen by 7 million.
But these self-congratulatory remarks should be treated with caution. The unemployment rate has been falling steadily since the Obama administration. And, as activists pointed out, many of the 7 million people who no longer receive food stamps do so because Trump has cut the associated aid programs. This is not an impressive success, but cold-hearted social policy.
Conflict with Iran
In addition to the speech itself, it’s the attending guests who help set the tone and send a political message. Every year, the president invites “ordinary citizens” to watch the event in the House of Representatives. These people are carefully selected for what they symbolize. This year Trump invited Kelli and Gage Hake from Oklahoma. Kelli Hake is the widow of a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2008 by a bomb allegedly ordered by Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. The US military killed Soleimani in January by order of the US president.
The presence of the Hakes was intended to show that killing Soleimani was a courageous act that avenged murdered Americans and protected many more lives. But it cannot distract from the fact that Trump’s behavior has pushed the US to the brink of war with Iran. It also cannot cover up the fact that the US government has not provided evidence for claims that Soleimani was allegedly on the verge of committing an attack on Americans.
Reality show on the political stage
Throughout the evening, guests repeatedly provided moments ready for a reality show. During the speech, first lady Melania Trump hung the Presidential Medal of Freedom around the neck of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, while the family of a soldier was surprised by the return of a husband and father. These were just two of many moments intended to spark an emotional response among those watching on TV. Trump, the professional entertainer, must certainly have enjoyed planning the event.
Perhaps he wanted to deliver a particularly great show because it might have been his last State of the Union address. If Trump is not re-elected in November, another president will be on the podium this time next year. At the moment that looks unlikely, but the Democrats haven’t given up hope. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, probably acted for many in her party, when she ripped up the speech manuscript Trump had previously presented. In view of the many half-truths and the praise of immigration police and loose gun laws, one would have liked to have done the exact same thing.