Trump, the Teleprompter, and a House Divided

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Trump, The Teleprompter And A House Divided on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

Those immortal words were spoken by Abraham Lincoln in a speech he gave in 1858 during an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate. But two years later, he took office as the president who would lead the country through a devastating Civil War fought over that very issue.

A month ago, Donald Trump took office as the president of a nation that, by any measure, is as divided today as it was in 1860. Last night, he addressed a joint session of a congress that is just as divided as the electorate, a fact visibly accentuated by the traditional seating arrangement in that historic chamber where the Democrats occupy the left side of large fan-shaped room and the Republicans the right.

By similar tradition, such presidential speeches are repeatedly interrupted by ovations given, more often than not, by the president’s supporters who stand and applaud while the opposition party remains seated. Last night, that image was punctuated by several rows of women on the Democratic side who remained seated—all dressed in white—as an organized protest against Trump.

Trump, himself, contributed to the divided image by addressing most of his remarks to the right side of the chamber. He spoke, as all presidents do, using a teleprompter system. By custom and by practice, the speaker swings back and forth between the teleprompter’s two clear plastic panels flanking the lectern, to address the entire audience. Ronald Reagan, given his experience as an actor, was particularly adept at making those swings smooth. Given his experience as a television performer, was Donald Trump “playing to the house” and in doing so, widening the polarization that has divided our nation?

His closing words, spoken to both sides of the chamber, seemed to indicate otherwise: “I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big, and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment.”

Perhaps Trump will pursue the thoughts in the balance of Lincoln’s famous quote: “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided.”

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Trump, The Teleprompter And A House Divided on Wednesday, March 1, 2017.