The State of the Union is one of the most highly choreographed and scripted nights in American politics. If everyone hits their mark—that is, if the president says the right words as they scroll by on the prompter and the minority party’s sacrificial lamb responds to say those words were bad without accidentally revealing which person(s) assassinated his great-uncle—no one will be talking about this made-for-cable news event by Friday.
As long as Donald Trump remains upright for the duration and doesn’t use the N-word, this speech, like most others, will be lost to the annals of history. But the deeply well-established pattern for how Democrats, Republicans, and the Beltway pundit class alike respond to this president and to the State of the Union makes it very easy for us to pick out our opinions of the speech ahead of the time and stick with them. You must have a take and, if you’re wise, you’ll pick one now.
Here is a brief survey of some takes—which will be so ubiquitous by 9 p.m. tonight that you’ll be suffering tunnel vision—you might consider claiming.
Dig deep for your repressed memories of Trump’s inauguration, when he bemoaned the “carnage” laying waste to our once-great country, and freaked everyone out. Just over a month later, when Trump addressed a joint session of Congress, he struck a much different tone and was heartily rewarded: CNN’s Van Jones and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were in rare agreement that, in that moment, Trump “became president of the United States.”
It’s so tired and disingenuous that it feels cliche, but the crowd inclined to praise Trump’s “presidential” demeanor in hushed tones, rather than critiquing the content of his speech, will almost certainly be out in full force again.
And please, for the love of God, don’t call it a “pivot.”
Another classic. Even though we don’t as of yet know exactly what Trump will roll out policy-wise, the speech was written by Stephen Miller, the administration’s resident far-right immigration hawk, and the president’s personal guest list includes an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and the families of two women killed by MS-13 gang members, so it’s safe to bet that Trump will be bullish on immigration and reliably fanatical in general.
No, it’s not normal, but reminding us of that fact for the millionth time isn’t interesting or productive.
This one goes out to the Hillary Clinton dead-enders out there. What would President Clinton be saying in her State of the Union address? I do not care.
It’s also something of a tradition—just as expected as the president’s own party responding to every utterance with rapturous applause—for the opposing party to boo, refuse to stand, or even, in extreme circumstances, heckle the president.
I say: who cares! Decorum and politeness are vastly overrated currencies in politics, and truly, nothing could be lamer than listening to Nancy Pelosi, who called on Tuesday for members of her caucus to sit quietly and behave like the good kids they are during the address.
This one, perhaps more than any other on the list, is a decent bet! You’ll sound like the cool, detached person at the State of the Union party (which won’t be difficult if you find yourself invited to a “State of the Union party”) and it’s also mostly true.
The State of the Union has long had little effect on a president’s poll numbers. This president in particular is also constantly accessible through his maniacal Twitter presence, ensuring that you’ll very rarely get a better show from the born entertainer when you shove him into a box of pomp and circumstance.
Deeply ill-advised; I beg you not to do this. As I’ve said, the opposition response is generally even less memorable than the State of the Union itself, unless you have the unfortunate luck of making it look like a hostage video broadcast from a desert island.