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The powerful women who made Trump’s State of the Union speech their own

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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From Nancy Pelosi’s pointed applause to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stony glare, here are the best takeaways from this year’s address. 

The 2019 State of the Union speech was always going to be controversial.

After the longestDonald Trump to give his national address to congress, and representatives traveled to Capitol Hill to hear it.

The speech was, unsurprisingly, divisive. Trump called for “bipartisan unity” and an end to fighting between Republicans and Democrats, but he also spoke about the “lawless” Mexican border, holding another summit with North Korea and, finally, about drafting anti-abortion laws on a federal level.

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“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life, and let us reaffirm a fundamental truth,” Trump said. “All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.” 

It was a bitter end to the speech, and one that has hinted at anti-abortion legislature playing a major role in Trump’s forthcoming policy and 2020 presidential campaign. But despite this, there were still some feminist moments worth celebrating from the State of the Union speech. These were our favourites: 

Trump celebrates female representatives

A record number of women were elected in the 2018 midterms, and many of them were seated in front of Trump as he delivered his speech.

The President referenced this in his address when discussing how his management of the country’s economy had led to higher levels of female employment. At this, many of the female politicians in the room stood and applauded, to Trump’s surprise and bemusement. 

Female Democrats applaud record number of women in politics

“Don’t sit yet,” he told the women in the room, as the standing ovation wound down. “You’re going to like this. Exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”

At this, the women in the audience erupted into cheers. 

Women in white 

Many of those record-breaking female politicians attended Trump’s speech in white pantsuits as a sign of solidarity with the women’s rights movement.

The image of wave after wave of women, mostly Democrats, seated in their white suits was an enormously powerful one. It spoke to the great increase in representation of women in politics, but also the role that these women will play in the future governance of the US. Maybe, seated in that room, was the first female President of America.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silent protest

One of the women in white was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old congresswoman from New York’s 14th district who is the youngest female politician elected to the House of Representatives in American history.

Ocasio-Cortez was seated among the bank of female Democrats during the speech and her stony refusal to stand and applaud Trump instantly became a viral meme. 

“Why should I be ‘spirited and warm’ for this embarrassment of a State of the Union,” Ocasio-Cortez later tweeted. 

“Tonight was an unsettling night for our country. The president failed to offer any plan, any vision at all, for our future. We’re flying without a pilot. And I’m not here to comfort anyone about that fact.” 

Nancy Pelosi’s pointed applause

Democrat Nancy Pelosi has been one of the most vocal opponents of Trump since her appointment to the office of Speaker of the House this year. It was she, after all, who has condemned Trump’s government shutdown and she who, simply by strutting out of a difficult meeting at The White House and putting on a pair of sunglasses, became a viral meme.

Pelosi has a talent for making pointed physical statements - the sunglasses, the hands in the pocket of her coat - and the State of the Union address was no exception.

Seated directly behind the President during his speech, Pelosi listened with an expression of quiet disdain on her face for most of the evening, occasionally scanning through a transcript of the speech as if willing for the whole thing to be over.

When it finally was, Pelosi rose to her feet to applaud Trump in what has become one of the most pointed examples of throwing shade via clapping we have ever seen.

Social media users jumped on the moment, immediately dubbing it a “f**k you clap”. “This is her house,” one twitter user wrote. “And Trump is an undocumented guest.” 

She didn’t clap for him, she clapped at him. This the kind of 2019 energy we need in our lives. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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