The Stillness at the State of the Union

By Al Perrotta Published on February 6, 2019

I am going to remember the stillness.

On a night of many highlights what stands out most from Tuesday’s State of the Union is the dead stillness of the chamber as the President spoke near the end. For over an hour the air had rippled with the rounds of applause, short bursts of boos, endless fidgeting and shuffling and murmuring. Chants of USA! Cheers for the advances of women! Roars for heroes!

The Congress had even sung happy birthday to a survivor of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. A more raucous, surprising State of the Union I can’t remember.

Yet … that stillness.

Trump had just brought tears to many an eye with the reunion of a American soldier and a Holocaust survivor he had helped to liberate. He was now speaking of America’s future. “We are Americans. We do the incredible. We defy the impossible.”

And the entire chamber was listening. Republican and Democrat. Deplorables and Resisters. The old salts who’d been in Congress since the days of John Jay to the newbies more interested in Jay-Z.  Military men in medal-spangled uniforms to the sea of Democratic women in white. All were glued to the President. In tune with the Commander-in-Chief. 

Trump pictured a nation united. But that moment was the first since his election — the first in who knows how long — I felt the unity. Congress was one body. The three branches were of one breath. We were, for a fleeting moment, one nation, indivisible. Under God.

Didn’t that feel good, America? 

The Miracle

America liked what it heard. According to a CBS Poll, 76% approved of the speech.

Earlier Tuesday I had said President Trump had three advantages going on. One was he really lives for these moments. He’s got the heart of a showman and the spine of Tom Brady. 

I forgot the touch of a miracle worker. 

Democrats were cheering “USA! USA! USA!” Democrats gave Trump standing ovations for something other than arriving. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez actually gave a standing O to an ICE agent! 

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Given how hated Trump is by many in that room, including enough on his side of the aisle, it is a miracle how non-partisan the night became. Somehow Trump turned the night almost festive. 

I felt bad for Stacey Abrams, who gave the Democratic response. She launched right into the usual partisan exaggerations and demonizing (and flat out distortions and lies). She sounded like someone who came late to the party wearing last season’s fashion. 

Rancor Held at Bay

It’s likely too much to hope, but it seemed for brief moments tonight that the spirit of rancor that has tormented our nation was broken. Or at least held at bay. 

Oh, it sneaked in a little. Even with Trump. One line was definitely out of place. Like it fell into the teleprompter from a campaign rally last fall. He said the only thing that could stop our economic miracle from continuing are “foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations.” It was an ear-rattling power chord in the middle of a waltz. 

His only false move in a stellar night. He was what many argued he could never be: Presidential. It’s not just that he reached across the aisle. It’s he reached high. 

“We must always keep faith in America’s destiny — that one nation, under God, must be the hope and the promise and the light and the glory among all the nations of the world.” 

President Trump called on Congress to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” 

And for one night President Trump made greatness seemed possible. 

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