Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitutions stipulates: The president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
Will you be watching President Trump’s first State of the Union address? Why or why not?
Until the start of the speech, we invite students to share their predictions for it.
Then, starting at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, we invite students to share their reactions as they watch and we live-moderate comments. The forum will stay open for student reactions throughout the week and beyond.
In “State of the Union Preview: Will Trump Stick to the Script?,” Michael D. Shear and Mark Landler write:
WASHINGTON — President Trump has spent his first year in office breaking every rule of presidential communication, conducting policymaking and diplomacy by Twitter and eschewing the careful, subdued tones of most presidents in favor of no-holds-barred attacks on his adversaries and allies alike.
But on Tuesday, Mr. Trump will embrace the most traditional of presidential venues — appearing before a joint session of Congress for his first State of the Union address — to deliver what aides describe as an optimistic speech that will seek to reach beyond the people who voted for him in 2016.
If he sticks to the script, the president is expected to call on Congress to spend at least $1 trillion to rebuild bridges, freeways, sewers and airports. And he will use the speech to lobby millions of viewers on behalf of his plan to make a series of conservative changes to the nation’s immigration system while also granting citizenship to as many as 1.8 million young immigrants.
But if his first year has proved anything, it is that there are no guarantees when Mr. Trump faces a television camera. Cabinet meetings have veered into presidential rants. Memorial speeches have turned into self-congratulatory moments. Short photo ops have become long news conferences.
“Teleprompter Trump sounds like a regular president,” said Michael Waldman, who was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1999 and wrote four State of the Union speeches. “Off-the-Teleprompter Trump sounds like a fill-in radio talk show host.”
When Mr. Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress last February — not technically a State of the Union speech — he offered a mostly optimistic vision of America, speaking soberly and almost verbatim from a prepared text.
But former speechwriters said traditional State of the Union speeches were a poor fit for Mr. Trump because they tended to be long lists of policy proposals, cobbled together over months in a process that involves agency employees across the federal government. During his first year, the president showed only a sporadic interest in the nuts and bolts of policymaking.
Jonathan Horn, who was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said Mr. Trump’s Twitter habit could undermine the political benefits of the speech. Hovering over the address is an accelerating Russia investigation and a congressional stalemate over spending.
“The next day there could be a tweet, and then the work on a very, very long speech is overshadowed by 280 characters,” said Mr. Horn, who was part of a team that drafted Mr. Bush’s 2008 State of the Union address.
Students: Read the entire article, then post a comment.
Predictions before the State of the Union address:
— What predictions can you make about this address? What will the president say? What topics will he take on? What tone do you expect him to take? Why?
— The authors of this article write that “if his first year has proved anything, it is that there are no guarantees when Mr. Trump faces a television camera.” Do you think Mr. Trump will “stick to the script?” Will he tweet after his speech?Continue reading the main story
After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU), I am once again reminded of how powerful delivery skills can be. We can debate whether style trumps substance or vice versa all we want. The truth is that leaders–political and business–who are able to connect emotionally with their stakeholders will win hearts and minds and those who don’t, won’t.
Candidates who come across forcefully, who look and sound like they believe what they’re saying, who display passion, will get our attention and, ultimately, our votes.
It means that Obama has a huge advantage going into this year’s election, as he did in 2008. It means that Newt Gingrich will continue to appeal to primary voters. And it means that Mitt Romney has a lot of work to do.
But it isn’t only presentation skills that make for good speech. Rhetorical devices and flourishes also have a big role in fostering connection, increasing impact, and helping us remember what has been said. In fact, if you examine my previous paragraph, you’ll note my use of a rhetorical device known as known as anaphora, the repetition of an opening word or phrase in successive sentences. The effect is mesmerizing, even hypnotic. Obama used anaphora repeatedly in the SOTU:
- No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important.
- We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity. (See parallelism below.)
- To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. (See parallelism below.)
- It was wrong. It was irresponsible. (See parallelism below.)
- I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean. I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men. And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.
- We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty. And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests.
(Note: Anaphora works best in series of three, and for some reason, many of Obama’s uses occurred in twos, leaving us hanging, waiting for that third one.)
Here are some of the other rhetorical “rules” the President followed:
- Anapest is a form of metrical foot, a pattern of word and syllable stress that creates a rhythm of two unstressed words or syllables followed by one stressed word or syllable (da da DA): “The opPOnents of ACtion are OUT of exCUses.”
- Tricolon is a series of three parallel words or clauses: “No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.” This phrase also incorporates anaphora and a bit of anapest and alliteration.
- Chiasmus is a verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first with the parts reversed. “Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.” (This is a clear rip-off of JFK’s famous “Ask not…” line, but not nearly as clever or effective.)
- Antithesis establishes a contrasting relationship between two ideas: “It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system…” and “It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.”
- Metaphor uses a familiar or tangible image to represent something else: “…none of this can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town.”
- Parallelism is a recurring syntax that equalizes the importance of each phrase: “We bet on American workers. We bet on American ingenuity.” And, “It was wrong. It was irresponsible.”
These are only a few of the many rhetorical devices that can make a speech much more effective and persuasive. We may like to think of ourselves as purely rational, only influenced by policy prescriptions or metrics, but that thinking is precisely what trips us up when it comes time to vote. To make the right decision, to select the best candidate for this incredibly important job, we must have the best information. Sharpening our understanding of how they say what they say will only add to our ability to decide.
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[Image: Courtesy Whitehouse.gov]