I dedicate this post to everyone who takes a little bit longer to process what they hear and articulate their response, and to all of my fellow procrastinators.
Does everyone remember last week’s spectacle of political theater? In the meme age, this may be all we’re left with: DOUG MILLS/GETTY IMAGES
And now the President is in Texas, doubling down on the border wall and expressing non-interest in any bipartisan goings-on in Washington to keep the government open. So, things have moved on. But I still have some thoughts on the #STFU #SOTU, as well as Georgia’s own Stacey Abrams’ response.
Like my own representative in congress, John Lewis, I chose not to watch the president’s address live. Lewis was among a number of Democratic members who boycotted the event, including GA 4th district’s Hank Johnson. Some Democrats who boycotted last year were in attendance this year, now that Trump has to look out and see a Democratic majority. But Lewis has a standing boycott of all of Trump’s public speeches. I have mixed feelings about that as a general tactic. On the one hand, we concerned citizens regularly criticize members of both political parties for failing to engage in constructive dialogue. Isn’t showing up with your ears the first step? Then again, we have a president whose pathological lying is well-documented. Why even attempt to directly engage with anything he says? Ignore him and get to work in congress and at the state level. I think this is Lewis’ approach.
On the other hand, if you’re going to protest, why not try something more subversive? I recall Democrats booing George W. Bush during one of his State of the Union addresses. And remember when Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s address way back in 2009, shouting “You Lie!”? This was characterized as an outburst rather than a protest, but there is something about it that I actually like. All politicians frame their facts to tell the story they want to tell, Obama was no exception. But Trump’s lying is something else entirely and maybe it necessitates an outburst. Or if that is a little too disruptive, maybe taking some of the more regular protocol and pushing the boundaries a bit? Body language, murmuring, applause are all built in to the State of the Union theater. Maybe some kind of gesture (no, not that one) for each of Trump’s most egregious false claims?
All of the women dressed in white model this kind of subversive intervention. They worked within the norms of the dress code and yet used it to convey their own message of resistance. If one goal for Democrats was to force Trump to look out on a changed congress, their coordinated dress made it impossible to overlook. The women also co-opted the standing ovation as sarcastic response, and their high-fives said, “You aren’t working to make America better for women, we are.” Trump noticed: “You weren’t supposed to that.”
JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS
In a lot of ways, this felt like a campaign speech. But come on, let’s not pretend that this particular opportunity hasn’t been used as a general platform for younger, “exciting” members of the responding party (Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Joe Kennedy, Joni Ernst, Paul Ryan, etc.). And it was a really good campaign speech at that. She hit all of the regular Democratic platform points, so nothing surprising there; gun safety measures, alleviating educational loan debt, living wages and labor rights, healthcare, climate change. I thought the language on some pressing points was powerful, as when she called for a compassionate and reasonable immigration plan as an alternative to the current administration’s uncompromising commitment to a border wall and its choice to “cage children.” And when she brought us back to that most critical of civil democratic rights, the right to vote. “Voter suppression is real.” Yeah, she said that flat out to a national audience on the biggest stage available to her. I think that was brave and necessary. (I am happy to share how more about how voter suppression played out in Georgia, and my own experiences at a State Capitol protest following the contentious election. Let me know of interest in the comments.)
Take the twelve minutes to watch the whole speech. Stacey Abrams is charismatic, compelling, and has conviction. Speculation as to what she does next is hot talk in Georgia politics right now. Many think she will launch a 2020 Senate campaign against Republican incumbent David Perdue. Can’t wait to vote for her again. And you bet I’ll be checking to make sure my vote is counted.