In a relatively staid #SOTU2019, Trump touts unity yet makes unyielding demands

Amid palpable partisan rancor, the president urged an end to the ‘politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.’ Optics in the House chamber grabbed the lion’s share of online buzz, however.

Trump's 2nd SOTU

Whether you found his oratory soaring or boring, President Donald Trump stuck (mostly) to the teleprompter on Tuesday night.

His 82-minute State of the Union address covered a multitude of hot-potato topics, ranging from health care costs to Venezuela to anti-Semitism. Multiple outlets reported that Trump’s address was well received by viewers.

The speech, however, underscored the “apparently unbridgeable ideological divides that hold Washington hostage and stifle a latent yearning for national unity,” as CNN wrote.

Afterward, Stacey Abrams of Georgia offered the Democratic response—the first time an African-American woman has been chosen to do so.

Partisan rancor was palpable in the House chamber. Trump’s comments about immigration and the need for a “southern border wall” seemed to elicit the most audible groans from the crowd, but there was plenty of eye-rolling throughout the evening.

Swaths of white—an homage to women’s suffrage—filled the Democratic side of the aisle, as well as the House speaker’s position just over Trump’s shoulder.

There were brief moments of unity, however. Trump drew cheers as he called for rejecting “the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution,” and both sides of the floor erupted into “USA!” chants upon referencing the record number of women elected to Congress. The crowd sang an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to an 81-year-old who survived the Holocaust and the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Online, snark and levity were out in full force, of course. Nancy Pelosi provided digital fodder by pulling off perhaps the most sarcastic clap of all time, and Twitter did what Twitter does best.

The fact-checkers were out in force, as usual.

Takeaways for communicators

You might not ever get a chance to pen a State of the Union address or partake in the pomp, but there are pertinent takeaways from last night for communicators. Let’s review three:

1. Convince execs that media training is worthwhile. Last night we saw “Teleprompter Trump, not Twitter Trump.” There were moments when “campaign rally Trump” seemed on the verge of emerging.

If you work with an unpredictable exec who tends to go rogue—or just someone who sees himself as a “natural” communicator—convince him that media training is a worthy investment. Today, just one major flub or careless “hot mic” moment can quickly ruin a career.

2. Seize your viral moment. Presidential hopeful Kirsten Gillibrand’s visceral exasperation was caught on camera last night, and she’s making the most of it.

When you’re able to grab attention, do something with it. Strike while the iron’s hot by providing a clear call to action for your new followers.

3. Faces outperform factoids. The most poignant moments of Tuesday’s State of the Union all had something in common: the human element.

Trump introduced a cavalcade of guests in attendance, including parolees, an astronaut, an ICE agent fighting human trafficking, World War II veterans and a 10-year-old cancer survivor.

Stats, facts and figures are great, but if you want to make an emotional connection, feature real human beings in your storytelling.

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