Communication studies, political science faculty available to discuss Trump’s joint address to Congress

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 10:09

President Donald Trump is expected to address a joint session of Congress for the first time on Feb. 28 (Tuesday). The speech, which will be televised to a prime-time audience, has taken the place of a January State of the Union speech for newly inaugurated presidents in recent decades.

The following University of North Texas faculty members are available to discuss possible topics for the speech and analyze language and themes of the speech.

Matthew Eshbaugh-Soha is the chair of the University of North Texas Department of Political Science. He is the author of "The President’s Speeches: Beyond 'Going Public'" and co-author of "Breaking through the Noise: Presidential Leadership, Public Opinion and the News Media." He previously discussed Trump's inaugural address to the media. He may be reached at 940-565-2329 or mes@unt.edu.

Mark Hlavacik is an assistant professor in the UNT Department of Communication Studies who teaches rhetoric. He may be reached at 815-531-2751 or mark.hlavacik@unt.edu.

Hlavacik says to look at Trump's Jan. 20 inaugural address for clues on how he will handle his address to Congress.

"Most presidential speeches are pretty formulaic, and the inaugural is largely a ceremonial speech about the present moment. It also speaks to commonly held values — what's honorable," Hlavacik says, noting that Trump perception of the present U.S. is "very grim and scary" and his concept of what's honorable is "vigorous nationalism and economic success."

Presidents are usually very slow to make changes to the formula for what is typically said in inauguration messages and other set speeches, but Trump isn't this way, Hlavacik says. He notes that although many past presidents have referenced actions of their predecessors, Trump did not do so in his inaugural address, and may break tradition by not doing so in his address to Congress. In his inaugural address, Trump emphasized returning power to the people as well as taking action to make America great again, and those will likely be themes in Trump's joint address to Congress, Hlavacik says.

"We may also wonder if he will follow the tradition of bringing guests to the speech and telling their stories during the speech, which Ronald Reagan started when he brought guests to his State of the Union speeches," he says. "And since he's on some level an embattled president, we wonder if he will address the turmoil in his speech."

Hlavacik points out that Trump excels at speaking to audiences at political rallies and getting them excited — a tactic that plays well to TV audiences. Congress, however, "is not that kind of audience."

"You have just the clap or not clap response. Congress has traditionally given positive feedback during a presidential address, or stayed silent and given no feedback," he says. "However, we seem to be moving more toward theatrics in Congress, and decorum seems to be in flux. I would not be shocked to see protests at the speech."

 

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