By Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT
Teased as “low key,” US President Donald Trump’s annual address to Congress was anything but, with several unprecedented symbolic gestures and a powerful assertion of American triumphalism that put his critics on the back foot.
Trump did not mention impeachment once in the 90-minute speech on Tuesday evening. Instead, he turned his persuasion skills up to eleven, painting a picture of America with a booming economy and infinite opportunities brought about by his administration, and contrasting that with Democrat proposals such as socialized healthcare and sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.
Amid the standard Trump talking points of tax reform, deregulation, border wall and support for police and immigration enforcement, however, were strategically seeded guests whose stories served to show, not tell, what the president stood for. This is where the usually stodgy SOTU turned into something new and different.
Legendary conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who had announced the day before he was suffering from late-stage lung cancer, was given a Presidential Medal of Freedom right there and then, accepting it from the hands of First Lady Melania Trump.
Later on, Trump gave Janiyah Davis a scholarship for a school choice program – a beloved Republican policy that had been blocked by Pennsylvania’s Democrat governor, stranding the African-American girl from Philadelphia on a waiting list.
Two-year-old Ellie Schneider from Kansas City, Missouri, who was born prematurely at barely 22 weeks old, was the living argument for Trump’s efforts to outlaw late-term abortions.
As a reminder that he presided over the destruction of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Trump brought in the parents of an aid worker held captive and killed by the terrorists. Introducing Carl and Marshal Mueller, Trump told them that the unit sent to kill IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named “Task Force 8-14,” to honor the birthday of their daughter Kayla.
Rather than just talking about ending America’s longest war, Trump literally brought home a soldier who had been on his fourth deployment in Afghanistan, reuniting him with his shocked wife and children right in the gallery.
It may have looked like one of his rallies, or even an episode of a daytime reality show, but it all ended up somehow fitting the decorum of the State of the Union, leaving very few dry eyes in the house and only a handful of bitter critics not on their feet. There were even some Democrats chanting “USA! USA!” when Sergeant Townsend Williams made his appearance.
That is not to say there weren’t cringe-worthy moments during the speech, such as Trump’s first guest, Juan Guaido – introduced as “true and legitimate president of Venezuela,” even though he is literally neither. Guaido’s presence served as backdrop for Trump’s crusade against socialism in Latin America – directly linked to his campaign against self-proclaimed socialists at home – yet all too many Democrats rose and clapped for the self-styled president, seemingly unaware of the irony.
Another awkward moment was invoking the widow and orphaned son of a soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2008 to justify the drone assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani last month. Warning terrorists that their lives are forfeit if they attack Americans would have a lot more weight had the Americans in question not been illegally occupying another country.
Trump was not in the mood to apologize, however; not for himself, and not for America, which he described as a place where “anything can happen” and “anyone can rise.”
“The American Age, the American epic, the American adventure has only just begun,” he declared at the very end, his voice giving a bit. “The sun is still rising, God’s grace is still shining, and my fellow Americans, the best is yet to come.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reacted by ripping up her copy of his speech, while the cameras were still rolling.
That stunt of Pelosi’s – more so than the rushed and bungled impeachment in the House – may well have secured Trump’s re-election. Ever a master showman, he had put his critics in the impossible position: applaud him, or be seen as hating America. Whatever one may think of Trump’s policies or him as a person, Tuesday night showed he was a massive force in American politics that has to be reckoned with.