LIMA — Last week might just be one for the record books. Between President Donald Trump’s acquittal, the chaotic Iowa caucuses and the State of the Union address, political news came down the line at top speed.
“This has been one of the craziest political weeks ever, because you had so many things colliding,” said Dr. Jennifer Walton, communication and media studies professor at Ohio Northern University.
The State of the Union, however, stood out as President Donald Trump’s shining moment during the chaotic week. In between checking the news, Walton took the time this week to explain how the optics of the moment played out among the toil and what the larger implications may be for the 2020 election.
Walton said the first observation worth mentioning is that Trump decided to move forward with a State of the Union in the first place. While most Americans expect a State of the Union speech, it’s not a requirement.
Because President Thomas Jefferson believed that delivering such a speech was reminiscent of a monarch addressing his or her people, he updated Congress on the state of a union with a written report. The practice continued up until President Woodrow Wilson, who took the speech route. Walton said that Wilson, a professor prior to a president, probably used the opportunity as a “teachable moment.”
With that said, Trump could have avoided the limelight as the impeachment trial played out in the Senate, Walton said. Instead, he took President Bill Clinton’s route in deciding to address the nation and sway public opinion.
It worked. Trump’s approval rating has been the highest it’s ever been, Walton said, and the next day, the Senate acquitted him as was expected.
Walton said what worked in the president’s favor was his demeanor. In comparison to the president’s standard free-wheeling style, Trump actually “acted presidential,” and he used his reality television roots to their full potential.
“As you’re watching, you’re thinking: ‘This is good TV.’ When they showed the soldier coming home, I thought ‘Oh my, he’s doing this during the State of the Union,” Walton said. “Presenting Limbaugh with presidential Medal of Freedom — his base will all love it. His opponents will not.”
The other big visible moment to come out of the speech, however, didn’t concern Trump. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s tearing of the address was a clear sign of rebellion against Trump, and Walton said the moment probably didn’t do her many favors.
“I’m a firm believer in not dignifying poor behavior with any kind of response. If you don’t agree with someone who’s acting out, you don’t meet them at their level,” Walton said. “I don’t think anyone saw the tearing up of the speech. … This very visible protest was really very shocking.
“If you thought 2016 was a circus, I think 2016 is going to be outdone. I don’t think 2016 started out this crazy. This will definitely set the tone for a wild election year.”
The Lima News also asked a list of local respondents about their thoughts on the past week. No two people gave similar answers, and each chose to highlight a different event as the most important.
But there was one at least one common vein among responses. A total of 90% of the respondents — comprising both Democrats and Republicans — made some note about the rank partisanship on display.
“This has just been a crazy week,” Walton said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.