What Photos Of Past Addresses Tell Us About Trump

by Ann-Derrick Gaillot
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In his first address to the joint session of Congress, Donald Trump called for bipartisanship and unity to push forward his plans to "make America great again." But looking at the audience, Congress' division was as clear as ever. Trump received standing ovations several times, but it was notable when the applause was only coming from the Republican side of the aisle. Anyone watching a presidential address to the joint session for the first time would be struck by the separation, but Democrats' and Republicans' show of partisan support through applause and standing ovations at these speeches is not new.

State of the Union addresses, which Trump's speech technically was not, always serve as a sort of pep rally. There, members of Congress and others in attendance can audibly and visually show how much they support a particular point the president is making, while opposition most likely is shown through silence, remaining seated, or even booing, as was heard during Trump's speech last night. Obama had to deal with it. Bush had to deal with it. Clinton had to deal with it.

And unless Trump suddenly changes almost everything about himself and his policy positions, he too will have to deal with it for the next four years. But overall, photos of differences across the aisle at Trump's first address are not fair indicators of more or less party division than in previous years.

Take a look.


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There are times when both sides are united in their seated silence and standing ovations. Take this photo from Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1943 SOTU address for example. Here, all are seated as Roosevelt shares updates on World War II at that time.



And as the following photo of John F. Kennedy at his 1962 State of the Union address shows, not all applause grows into a standing ovation. Sometimes Congress is united in seated applause.



Usually, all of Congress stands and applauds as the president is introduced, as shown in this 1969 photo of Lyndon B. Johnson beginning his State of the Union address.



This 1980 photo shows all of Congress seated for a moment of Jimmy Carter's State of the Union address.



While this 1999 photo taken during Bill Clinton's State of the Union address clearly shows division in Congress, but not so clearly across party lines. There are folks on both sides of the aisle that are standing and seated.



This photo from George Bush's 2002 address may have come at the very beginning or very end of a moment of applause. If you look closely, you can see some people on one side with their hands together while most everyone else seems to be still.



That mix is even more pronounced in this photo from Bush's 2006 State of the Union address. Some people are giving a standing ovation, while others are still seated. The image could show division, but it could also show the end of the ovation where some people who were standing may have sat down before the others.


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The importance of timing when it comes to taking photos of ovations is clearer in the following photo from Bush's 2007 address, where there could be division, or just many Republicans are shown standing and blurs on the Democrat side seem to show some people in the process of standing up.


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But this 2008 photo shows a time where Bush said something to appeal to all in attendance. Most people, though not all, are giving him a standing ovation.



Obama knew congressional division all too well during his time in office. In this photo from 2010, several Democrats are clearly standing and clapping while the GOP is united in sitting and withholding their applause.



While in this photo from 2014, all are giving the president a standing ovation with the exception of a few, some of whom look to be in the process of standing up.



This photo from 2015 shows the opposite of what many viewers of Trump's first speech to Congress saw. Many Democrats are giving the president a standing ovation while nearly all of the Republicans are not.


This photo from Trump's address to the joint session of Congress showed a clearly divided country.

2017 Again

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But again, context is key. In this photo, nearly everyone is standing and applauding, though the direction they are looking indicates it may have been a tribute to someone in the crowd.

These photos just go to show that standing ovations, divided and united across party lines and not, is a tradition when it comes to presidents addressing joint sessions of Congress. And photos of half of Congress standing and half of Congress seated from almost any year can be used as evidence of the nation's division. But only when they are put in context of the time period, the content of the speeches, and the exact point the photo was taken can they really tell a story of the unity, or lack thereof, of the country at the time.

The U.S. is certainly divided under Trump, but that doesn't mean it wasn't divided before.