While by tradition not a formal state of the union address — presidents since Richard Nixon have waited until after their first year in office — President Donald Trump’s speech to Congress could take any sort of direction.
Still, by tradition when a president visits Congress, it is a moment that usually brings a certain amount of decorum. Usually.
All bets are off on Tuesday night, though. Clearly, Trump is not one to back away from confrontation; in fact, some might say he enjoys, if not revels in, it. But it’s not all on Trump. What will the reception he receives from Democrats in the audience be? Even more so, what will happen on the streets outside of Congress?
As The Associated Press reported in its Sunday story, there is no lack of bad blood between Democrats and Trump. Already, Democrats have made a point of inviting immigrants and foreigners to attend Trump’s speech as a choreographed counterpoint to his exclusionary immigration policies.
What will the speech hold? We hope it will help frame the president’s agenda in more concrete terms. Right now, the flash points for his presidency have been executive orders that have been challenged and struck down by the courts, open warfare with the media in Washington and a frosty relationship with Mexico.
“A tweet-free, optimistic and uplifting message about where America needs to go,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to hear.
Then there are the Democrats.
“How will he respond when several hundred Democratic members of Congress are not giving him the love he’s hoping for from the audience?” Michael Waldman, chief speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, said. “There’s never been anybody who’s stood there before, who’s responded to audiences with as much extemporaneous venom.”
To expect that Tuesday’s speech will carry the same pomp and ceremony that a presidential speech before Congress has had in recent years is the hope.
That it doesn’t turn into a ruckus, though, also hoped.
• Dave Mathews