He noted the recent American recognition of Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, but used the moment largely as a bludgeon against the newly resurgent American left. “We are born free, and we will stay free,” he said. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.” Although his plans to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan have raised hackles among many members of Congress, especially those in the GOP, he won bipartisan applause when he said, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
As expected, Trump also boasted at length about positive economic indicators, including strong job growth. But he was unable to resist the temptation to exaggerate and dissemble, saying that the United States has the hottest economy in the world (it doesn’t) and that his administration has cut more regulations than any in history (it hasn’t).
The two most striking takeaways from the speech weren’t things that Trump said. The first came when the president recognized Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who also survived the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. After Trump noted that Tuesday was Samet’s 81st birthday, the chamber broke into an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
The second was a visual: the sight of the women of the House Democratic caucus sitting together in a bloc and clad in white, both a nod to the women’s suffrage movement and a statement of the new political power of women in the party. Many of these lawmakers were elected in November and ran strongly against Trump. For the most part, they sat, often stone-faced, as Trump spoke—yet at one point, they did jubilantly cheer.
“No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year. All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before,” Trump said. A few of the women rose to applaud.
The president spotted them and quipped, “You weren’t supposed to do that,” then added with a grin, “Don’t sit yet, you’re going to like this.” The next line—“And exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than at any time before”—had the bloc of women in white on their feet chanting “U.S.A.!,” an unexpected moment of bipartisanship.
But that warm and fuzzy moment was notable because it was an outlier. Though Trump spoke the language of compromise early in the speech, there is no indication that he has the will or a strategy to actually govern that way.
“We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good,” Trump said. “Together we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”