Hillsdale faculty applauded and criticized aspects of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, as well as Democrat reactions.
Trump spent much of Tuesday night pointing to American history and claiming that America is stronger and better than it has ever been. He also touched on themes of Manifest Destiny and the last frontier.
“This is our glorious and magnificent inheritance,” Trump said. “We are Americans. We are pioneers. We are the pathfinders. We settled the New World, we built the modern world, and we changed history forever by embracing the eternal truth that everyone is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.”
Trump also invited various guests from across the country to sit in the gallery during his remarks. Trump sent a message for the Venezuelan people home with legitimate Venezuelan president Juan Guaido. He also honored former Tuskegee Airman Brigadier General Charles McGee, and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh was surprised with the Presidential Medal of Feedom.
Professor of Rhetoric and Public Address Kirstin Kiledal said that while some of Trump’s invitations became inspirational moments, others felt forced.
“He had a couple of inspirational moments that took us back to Reagan. Most notable was the 13-year-old child who wanted to join the Space Force and his great-grandfather who was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen,” Kiledal said. “That dealt with our national values, national mission, and values that Trump is trying to move forth. It created a higher calling than simply the defensive mechanisms of the military. That was beautiful.”
Kiledal also cited the presentation of Limbaugh with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the message to all of Venezuela through rightful president Guaido as inspirational moments. She said, however, that the bringing home of the serviceman to his family appeared contrived.
“It seemed more staged and more of a political moment,” she said. “It stopped having a direct tie. There didn’t seem to be a genuine authentic link
between the President’s actual message and subject matter and the bringing of the man home at the moment.”
The most controversial moment of the night came at the end of Trump’s speech when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped up the transcript of Trump’s speech as she stood behind him.
Professor of History Bradley Birzer said that her actions will go down as a critical moment in history.
“For her to do that, I think it’s incredibly dangerous,” Birzer said. “It gives justification to violence because it was such a violent act to do that. I think it legitimizes division in a way that a republic just can’t have.”
The White House called out Pelosi for her actions in a tweet Tuesday night.
“Speaker Pelosi just ripped up: One of our last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. The survival of a child born at 21 weeks. The mourning families of Rocky Jones and Kayla Mueller. A service member’s reunion with his family. That’s her legacy,” the tweet said.
As for the address itself, assistant professor of politics Adam Carrington said that the speech is a victory for Trump especially considering the current turmoil in the Democratic party.
“From what I’m hearing, people are saying it’s one of the more effective speeches he’s given,” he said. “And, this is in some ways his launch of his reelection campaign, so I think compared to what’s going on in Iowa, it’s certainly positive for him. The way the speech has been received as a comparison to what’s going on in Iowa is very good optics as they call it.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave the Democratic response to Trump’s address just minutes after he concluded in D.C. Whitmer addressed a crowd of Michigan citizens at East Lansing High School, where her speech was broadcasted. Her speech mostly focused on the economy and improving infrastructure.
“During my campaign, people told me to fix the damn roads, because blown tires and broken windshields are downright dangerous, and car repairs take money from rent, child care or groceries. And we, the Democrats, are doing something about it,” Whitmer said.
Kiledal said that Whitmer’s response effectively reached her party’s base in Michigan and around the country. But Kiledal also said she doesn’t think that Whitmer’s focus on the actions of Democrats was sufficient.
“It didn’t have an end. What is the end you’re trying to take us to? Donald Trump had an end. It was one of principles and values, using the concept of American comeback and moving forward into the American frontier,” she said.
On Tuesday night, the Michigan Republican Party released a statement in response to Whitmer claiming that the Governor was placing partisan politics over the best interests of the nation.
“Tonight, Governor Whitmer’s State of the Union response was as empty as the potholes her broken promises have failed to fill,” the statement said. “While President Trump’s leadership has led to historically low unemployment, tens of thousands of new jobs, and billions in new investment here in Michigan, Governor Whitmer has modeled herself after the do-nothing Democrats in Washington.”
Reporters Victoria Marshall and Ben Wilson contributed to this report.