It seems almost surreal that a United States president will deliver to Congress his State of the Union Address a little less than 24 hours before the Senate votes to either acquit or convict him on articles of impeachment. This very fact, though, will likely overshadow anything President Donald Trump will say at around 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Considering the animous that exists between the current president and the opposition party, it is worth remembering that, while every president is constitutionally required to “give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,” an in-person presentation to Congress is not obligatory. Thomas Jefferson, for example, submitted his State of the Union to Congress in writing. It was not until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson that the tradition of addressing Congress – begun by George Washington – was revived.
One could certainly argue that Donald Trump, in choosing to deliver his State of the Union in person, rather than in writing, shows a willingness – perhaps even a determination – to minimize the ill will that clearly exists for him within the ranks of the opposition party. If civility and cooperation were of no concern to this president, he would surely follow the Jeffersonian tradition of delivering his State of the Union in writing.
As with previous years, this occasion – solemn in its conduct but symbolic of the intended harmonious working relationship between coequal branches of government – will be marred by boycotts and acts of protest on the part of congressional Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will scowl or smirk, no doubt, through the duration of Trump’s address. What will her facial expression really be concealing, though? The bitterness of knowing that, the next day, her party’s attempt to remove the president from office will come to naught, as the Senate votes to acquit him – or at the very least will vote not to convict him? Relief, perhaps, that Trump will not be removed from office, which could well have irreversibly split the nation and made every future Democrat president vulnerable to partisan impeachment?
A TV Ratings Record?
Trump is always a big draw, in terms of television viewer ratings, but this year’s event could be what the president himself might describe as “Yuge!” A State of the Union Address delivered the day before an impeachment trial verdict makes for compelling television for anyone with more than a passing interest in politics. Across 12 networks, 45.6 million people tuned in to the 2018 address, according to a report in Variety, and 46.8 million watched the event in 2019. In 2015, former President Obama drew 31.7 million viewers across 13 networks and, in 2016, 31.3 million, across 12 networks – a record low, according to Politico.
Love him or hate him, Trump made politics great again and nobody should object to an increased level of interest in politics among the general population. The 2020 State of the Union Address may shape up to be one of the most-watched and most-analyzed television broadcasts in American political history. From watching it, Americans will learn less about the state of the union than about the state of Washington politics.
Read more from Graham J Noble.