At the beginning of this month, President Trump gave his State of the Union address.
It is an evening full of honoring military members, grieving with families who have undergone immense tragedies and recognizing what the Trump administration has accomplished since the last address.
While Trump’s speech resonates with some and strikes a nerve with others, what is debatably the most entertaining part of the night is watching the members of Congress choose to either stand or sit after the president makes a statement. Standing shows the sign of approval while remaining seated after the president’s statement is a sign of disapproval.
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sit squarely behind the podium and act as a director would to a choir. When Pence stands, it indicates to the Republican half of Congress to erupt in applause. When Pelosi stands, the Democrat half of Congress does likewise. Our nation has never looked more divided than on the night of the State of the Union address—a night when the president is supposed to reassure the country there are solutions to the country’s problems.
The sheer divide in the chamber is clearly visible to the viewer at home. As the camera moves away from the president, it pans around the chamber zooming in on important figures in our government, trying to get a sense of their take on the statement. As the camera focuses on the members of Congress, the applause of approval are matched with eyes of disgust peering to the “other side” of the room where a group of people are not standing.
Their body language says it all. It’s almost as if the people of Congress are less interested in what the president is saying and more interested in internally ridiculing the other for not believing the same. Both sides blame the other for the nation’s issues, and both sides believe they are the mature party. It’s a school yard of name calling and bickering, and I feel that our nation is becoming dangerously divided.
President Trump’s State of the Union address lasted 82 minutes and hit on a variety of different issues ranging from immigration to health care. I would be lying if I were to say I was completely invested throughout the full speech. There were moments where I would drift away from the address only to be jolted back by the sound of applause. I would then look to see who from Congress or behind the podium was standing and applauding and make up my mind on whether or not I approved of the statement.
Once this happened, it occurred to me how much power was in Congress’ ability to sit or stand. Congress banks on Americans not being completely informed on particular issues so they themselves can sway the viewer solely by their posture. During the time I was dozing off, Trump could have said anything, and I would have easily supported it depending on if my party was in agreement. It’s in my ignorance (with the assumption that I’m not alone) where I believe there needs to be a change.
The change would be simple. Keep the camera on the president. This would keep the address shorter, force the president to speak to the American people rather than to please Congress, and most importantly it would allow for the viewer to choose whether or not they approved of the statement themselves. Not because their party was standing or sitting but because of their own education on the topic.
While I understand this could give more influential power to the president, what I believe would occur is recognition that we the people living in the nation are not as divided as we appear on a screen.