State of The Union: UConn students, professors respond to President’s speech

President Donald Trump turns to House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., as he delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence watches, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

Students and professors at the University of Connecticut had generally negative reactions to the President’s State of the Union Speech, which was delivered Tuesday evening.

President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union speech in the House of Representatives chamber after a week-long delay due to the government shutdown.

Students and professors had low expectations for the speech.

“I usually find Trump to be obnoxious and his rhetoric was the biggest reason I was anti-Trump in 2016,” Ari Goldman, a ninth-semester public policy major said. “I have been very pleasantly surprised over the course of the last two years and find myself for the first time wondering if I will vote red in a presidential election.”

Jacob Horn, an assistant professor in residence of English, described his feelings going into watching the speech as “a general malaise.”

“I felt like I had to watch the result of years—decades—of manipulation stand before the

world and express his bizarre, out-of-touch ideas about the United States, and that many people would simply accept them as true,” he said.

The president briefly commented on the investigation led by Robert Mueller into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States,” Trump said, “and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

Pratima Singh, a seventh-semester English major, decried the condemnation of the Russia probe.

“Calling the investigation ‘partisan’ during one of the most important addresses that a president gives every year politicizes something that was put in place as evidence of our country’s system of checks and balances,” Singh said.

One of the president’s guests was Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor and survivor of the November 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Trump noted that the evening of the State of the Union happened to be Samet’s birthday, at which point the crowd sang a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” while the President cheerfully conducted. At the end of the song, Trump quipped, “They would not do that for me.”

Singh was at first charmed by the singing.

“When the guests first started singing and President Trump smiled, I was surprised by how human he seemed,” she said. “But then,” she went on, “quickly getting back on brand, he brought the attention back to himself by pretending to ‘direct’ the song.”

Horn said the moment was “ham-fistedly calculated.”

“The celebration of Holocaust survivors needs to continue,” Horn said. “The recognition of survivors over shooters in our gun-violence saturated culture needs to continue.”

Singh also remarked on the juxtaposition of Trump celebrating Samet with the strongly anti-Semitic rhetoric used by many of his supporters.

“The president inviting a Holocaust survivor to the State of the Union would have been more meaningful if he had condemned the hordes of Neo-Nazis and anti-Semitic Klan members who so strongly advocated for him throughout his campaign and continue to advocate for him throughout his term,” she said.

Democratic women wore white for the occasion, in support of the Suffragette movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, and in honor the record-breaking number of women in Congress. The women sat together as a block with stoic faces for the duration of the speech. The exception to this was when President Trump acknowledged the rise in women’s employment in the country. In response to the women cheering, chanting “USA.” Trump said, “You weren’t supposed to do that.”

“The women in white outshone the president, and the fact that the camera often captured their disgust, horror, indifference and disagreement shows that Trump no longer has a team of ‘Yes Men’ to work with. Instead, he’s got ‘Not Afraid to Side-Eye You’ Women who will hold him accountable,” Singh said,

Singh conceded that the move by the congresswomen was a bit immature.

“We can only hope that their, albeit childish, tactics to rile up the president will force him to hold himself accountable for the promises and mistakes he has made,” she said.

Goldman found the congresswomen’s statements to be an act of protest which was “expressive of many of the larger faults of the Democratic party in recent years.”

“I view it as a show of intragroup signaling.” Goldman said. “Not that the Republicans were free from that appearance. The endless protest and stubborn behavior is a nod to a polarizing constituency. The willingness of the Democrats to cut off the nose to spite the face is disturbing.”

Trump spent a portion of his speech criticizing the current state of immigration affairs in the country, which was the subject of the partial government shutdown in January.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said. “Working-class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration.”

Horn was quick to refute some of the President’s statements.

“It’s all lies, all the way down,” he said. “How could illegals, who are not able to retrieve things like social security, but who are often paying into it through their work, deplete a social safety net? It’s bizarre.”

Horn said he was “rather surprised by the coherence of [Trump’s speech].”

“I’m no more hopeful than I was when I started going through this, but that’s largely because there’s nothing new here—the same situation, the same material, it’s just rehashed and restated.”


Penina Beede is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at penina.beede@uconn.edu.