Body language-wise, Tuesday's State of the Union address was shaping up to be the shadiest in history. First, we had House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's tepid handshake with Trump and those perfunctory golf claps.
Then she pursed her lips and read (presumably a printout of his speech, although people on Twitter speculated it was everything from Michelle Obama's memoir to Trump's tax returns) for a long time.
What was that? A barely perceptible shake of the head after Trump said, "The state of our union is strong"?
Other Democratic women in Congress also couldn't veil their contempt. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's eye roll was sure to get her some donations.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the Democratic women in the House — all sitting together wearing white — sat there quietly. No smiling. No standing. No clapping. Pretty much what you'd expect given that many of them have vowed to investigate and impeach Trump, an investigation that he called "ridiculous" and "partisan" in a particularly concerning portion of the address.
Please just look at Pelosi's face when he went on about the investigations.
But then...something curious happened. As Trump began talking about the progress of women, citing that women filled 58% of the new jobs created in the past year, the Democratic women looked at each other as if to ask, "Is it okay to stand up now?" Then they started to stand up and cheer. Even AOC. And the thing is, their expressions looked like pure joy rather than perfunctory, official going-through-the-motions.
"You were not supposed to do that," Trump said in their direction. "Thank you very much. ... Don’t sit yet. You are going to like this." At this point, Rep. Rashida Tlaib did a "raise the roof" dance. (You can bet she still wants to "impeach the motherfucker," though.)
Trump receives cheers and standing ovations from a bipartisan group of female lawmakers wearing white as he touts the number of women in the workforce and more women serving in Congress than ever before.— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) February 6, 2019
"You weren't supposed to do that," he jokes https://t.co/jivGTJdTQx #SOTU pic.twitter.com/TzDZyBg281
And then, "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." (To which some of the Democratic women said, "On this side!" which, true. Of the 127 women in Congress, 21 are Republicans and 106 are Democrats.)
The room erupted. The women stood again. Pelosi stood up and clapped, this time in a genuine way, in the direction of her colleagues. The two parties briefly stood and cheered together, throwing off all the pent-up energy of the divisive time. Ivanka looked very pleased.
Trump being Trump, he thought the cheering and unity among the women was about him. But it wasn't. It was about celebrating each other. His words didn't change the fact that he told a harmful lie about late-term abortion during the speech. Or the fact that there were parents who were separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border and transgender troops whom he had kicked out of the military in the audience. The women wearing white and Equal Rights Amendment pins didn't forget. But they were tired of feeling sad and hopeless, so they chose joy in that moment.