Happy Birthday: How One Song United a Nation at The State of the Union Address

By Matthew Geiger | @mattg444

The talking heads of the mainstream media will tell you that we live in a nation divided. On their broadcasts, journalists will exclaim that the republic is crumbling. If you watch the news, you’d know that the world is burning, and its epicenter is the Trump Administration. Maybe that’s true, but at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, it was not.

Imagine a world where Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Vice President Mike Pence both chant “USA! USA! USA!” in unison. Imagine a world where President Trump celebrated the success of having a strong presence of women in the United States Congress, many of whom defeated candidates he endorsed last November. Imagine a world where a speech that contained anti-illegal immigration sentiment and Republican talking points made Democrats cheer. This was the 2019 State of the Union address.

Now, reverse this picture. Republicans cheering for criminal justice reform. War hawks embracing an end to foreign intervention. President Trump promising to enact paid maternity leave. This was the 2019 State of the Union address.

President Trump speaking
President Trump delivers 2019 State of the Union Address (photo credit: The Guardian)

In a speech that Presidents have traditionally struggled to galvanize public opinion in their favor, Donald Trump excelled. A man known almost solely for his divisive rhetoric was able to put his differences (mostly) aside and embrace the idea of a united nation.

The speech transcended politics and celebrated the life of those who have faced so much adversity and yet have been able to survive and thrive because of the opportunity that the United States has offered them. Such an address reminded us that while the United States is an imperfect nation, it still has perfect moments. Holocaust survivors meeting their liberators. Cancer survivors striving for a cure. Non-violent drug offenders fighting for reform. This was the 2019 State of the Union address.

Towards the end of the speech, President Trump recognized Judah Samet, a Holocaust and Pittsburgh shooting survivor, who was celebrating his 81st Birthday. The Congress then sang “Happy Birthday” as a sign of respect.

Let me state that again:

The United States Congress sang Happy Birthday to an 81-year-old survivor of two tragedies, together, as one. Everyone was singing, from Senators Lindsey Graham to Cory Booker, from President Trump to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A nation united, even if just for a moment.

This was the 2019 State of the Union address.


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