Against the backdrop of historically low approval ratings, a divided nation and looming midterm elections that could give control of Congress to Democrats, President Donald Trump was expected to stick to his typical script of tough talk on immigration, the economy and national security during his first official State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
But aside from regurgitating his usual “America first” rhetoric and touching on other policy issues, much of America – and the world — will also be listening for his signature racial dog whistling that has often fueled his speeches. While the content of his address is important, so are the people who will, and won’t be, in attendance, along with their reactions.
Here are some things to look for:
Much of the Congressional Black Caucus will be not attend because of Trump’s bigotry and policies that harm working-class families. The list includes Reps. Maxine Waters, John Lewis and Frederica Wilson.
Black lawmakers to wear red pins
Those Black lawmakers who do show up were expected to wear red pins to recognize the recent death of Recy Taylor, a Black woman who was raped in 1944 by six White men in Alabama. The gesture will come as the nation reckons with the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct and will shine a light on sexual violence during the dark days of the Jim Crow era.
The Black Response
Waters, one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, announced she will respond to the speech on BET News Tuesday night, leading off a special program called Angela Rye’s State of the Union. Afterward, activists and other elected officials will analyze Trump’s first year in office and discuss “building Black politics and the value of engagement across today’s socio-political landscape.”
Immigration (DACA and the border wall)
The divisive topic that became the hallmark of Trump’s election will likely be front and center, as the president is now open to a pathway to citizenship for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. However, in exchange for his concessions, Trump wants $25 billion to build a wall along the nation’s border with Mexico.
Female lawmakers to wear black
Inspired by celebrities who wore black to recent awards shows, some female lawmakers were expected to do the same Tuesday night to show solidarity with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements to address sexual harassment allegations that swept through Hollywood and reached Capitol Hill.
Expect Trump to claim full and complete credit for the economy, including the lowest Black unemployment rate since the 1970s, even though economists have credited former President Obama’s policies and historically low interest rates.
Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy was expected to deliver his party’s response in part by insisting that Trump has accomplished very little legislatively except for passing a tax bill that favors wealthy individuals and corporations.