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The Glorious Optics of Trump’s SOTU

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The scowling faces of Democrats during President Trump’s SOTU speech on Tuesday night told Americans everything they need to know about the Democratic leadership of this country. Items that any rational person should cheer went unacknowledged by most Democrat politicians. Or rather, they were acknowledged, with aforementioned scowling faces and the distinct lack of even golf club applause.


This is what we in public relations call “bad optics”. It is instructive to examine not only why the Democrats’ behavior is so awful, but how the President’s policies and the speech itself set them up for failure.

The American economy has enjoyed a significant uptick ever since the election. Much of this has more to do with the psychology of the Trump victory more than policy implementation itself. Policy takes time to work into the system, but psychological influence is immediate and palpable. Virtually every economic metric rose during 2017, demonstrating a broad optimism that the President’s policies would stimulate the economy.

It is essentially the reverse of FDR’s “nothing to fear but fear itself”. A general feeling of hope and optimism, much like what President Reagan brought to America, is itself enough to stimulate economically beneficial behavior.

The President laid out his other accomplishments, most of which were accurately presented. Many of them involved cooperation from a generally weak GOP, and had zero support from Democrats. With actual accomplishments as his ammo, he and his speechwriters wisely took the high road and let those accomplishments speak for themselves.

Thus, Democrats were placed in a no-win situation. Either they could stand (or even sit!) and politely applaud, which would mean appearing as though they support the man they despise, or do what they did – scowl and grumble.


The key, in terms of optics, lies with how regular Americans view this behavior. Remember, the Democrats already have their permanent base that will never give Trump an inch. What Congressional Democrats forgot is that there are millions of independent voters out there, as well as Reagan Democrats, who disapprove of this poor form.

When these regular Americans see Democrats refusing to applaud the fact that they will save about $2,000 on their taxes (also factual), or that people should stand for the national anthem and honor the country, they make silent note of it.

One wonders how many Black Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat, may have second thoughts when they saw the Congressional Black Caucus super-glued to their seats at the announcement of the lowest Black unemployment rate in modern history (also factual).

How many Jews saw every Democrat, except crafty Chuck Schumer, sit stone-faced when the President reminded us that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? 

Yet perhaps the most damaging refusal-to-applaud moment came when the President discussed immigration. He said clearly that immigration was a difficult issue to tackle, that everyone would have to compromise, that compromise means nobody comes away happy, and that his four pillars of immigration policy would be what he chose to do.


This was a perfectly rational and reasoned response that many Conservatives I know are not happy with, and that no Democrat I know is happy with. Despite including some Democratic ideas in his proposal, nobody on the left side of the aisle moved a muscle.

Which tells us that nothing that Donald Trump does will make Democrats happy. Ever.

And therein lies the brilliance of the speech. He spoke to regular Americans, recognized several heroic gallery visitors as being emblematic of his policies, and never attacked the Democrats. Rather than stoke partisan rancor, he just stuck to the facts and underlined them with personal and human stories. 

See, most Americans are fair-minded and rational. They appreciate a straightforward speech like this. By refusing to acknowledge that this is a great country, that good things are happening, that people should stand for the national anthem, that regular people have more of their money to spend as they wish, the Democrats looked utterly foolish. Their true colors were revealed yet again.

This says nothing about those who were caught on camera flipping through their cellphone, walking out before the end of the speech, or in the case of crazy Maxine Waters, not showing up at all.

Think about the reverse scenario. What if they had politely applauded most – not all – of what the President said? What if they occasionally stood up and applauded loudly for something that should unite Americans, like standing for the national anthem? How about the one Democratic politician who did leap to his feet and applaud certain lines, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia?


Most Americans would have said, “Okay, good. They are showing respect and common courtesy”. 

This is a State of the Union address, emphasis on Union. The Democrats had an opportunity to at least show that America can be united when their President speaks about the nation we all share. 

Instead, Democrats showed exactly what they think about a strong America. After all, they need weakness and dependence to maintain power, so one shouldn’t be surprised at all by their sad performance. 

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