State of the Union Was Trump’s ‘We’ vs. Obama’s ‘I’

Historians say chief executive's address to the nation succeeded by keeping focus on shared responsibility, opportunities for everybody

Reviews of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address were strong, and a pair of historians believe a big reason has to do with pronouns.

Presidential biographer Craig Shirley said Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that Trump used the word “we” 129 times, “which stands in great contrast to [Barack] Obama’s speeches and [Bill] Clinton’s speeches. And it really does take you back to the time of [Ronald] Reagan. I reject this idea that it’s Reagan versus Trump. I think it’s Trump and Reagan.”

Historian Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, made the same point in a separate appearance on the radio show. He said Trump used about 75 percent fewer first-person references than Obama did.

“So instead of ‘I, me and mine,’ we heard ‘we, I and our,’ and that was really effective, because it was uniting,” he said.

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Shirley said the speech was uplifting and tapped into an ethos from which America’s great leaders have drawn.

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“Happiness is at the root of everything. Reagan understood, the framers and founders understood, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy understood, that a happy people are a productive people,” he said. “And a productive people can do great things.”

Shirley said Democrats in the audience looked silly with sour expressions that did not change even when Trump recited positive economic news.

“They couldn’t even applaud the economic numbers, you know, for African-Americans and Hispanics. Good news should be bipartisan, right?”

“His speech was so, you know, over-the-top good that it contrasts so badly with the Democrats who were dressed in black, sitting there mourning, who couldn’t even applaud, you know, their own country,” he said. “They couldn’t even applaud the economic numbers, you know, for African-Americans and Hispanics. Good news should be bipartisan, right?”

Shirley said the speechwriter who crafted the address should get a raise. And he said Trump, whose overall approval ratings remain sluggish at best, should “stay above the fray” as he pursues the 2018 agenda that he articulated Tuesday night.

“The roadmap was laid out last night,” he said. “Now, they need to follow it.”

Hanson challenged the conventional wisdom that Republicans are headed for a beating in November’s midterm elections.

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“You can’t run on Donald Trump the person when things are getting better and Trump is reaching out,” he said.

During the 2016 campaign and much of Trump’s first year in office, he has been a “radioactive” figure, Hanson said. But the president can flip the script by keeping the spotlight on policy and results.

“He’s the one that’s moderate, judicious and sober, and when you looked at that Democratic side, they seemed to be still melting down, radioactive,” he said. “As so, basically, he’s letting them have the emotional spotlight, and then he’s got the agenda and the material record.”

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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