Yet another metaphorical glass ceiling was broken — perhaps even demolished for good — during President Donald Trump's second State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 5. This year, all eyes were on the former Democratic nominee for the Georgia gubernatorial race, who gave the party's official response to the president. This video of Stacey Abrams' response to the 2019 State of the Union shows why the move was such a big deal.
The annual address to the joint session of Congress is typically followed by a response from the opposing party. Historically, that role has been reserved for rising stars in the party who are usually legislative office holders — and usually white and male. But Tuesday changed all that for good.
On Jan. 29, Abrams confirmed she would do the honors Tuesday after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made the ask a few weeks ago. And when the big moment came, Abrams pulled no punches in her televised address before the nation, following the president.
Abrams talked about her upbringing with a touching anecdote about her father, the government shutdown's impact on furloughed federal workers, gun safety, and more. She dug in on Trump and the GOP generally.
"The Republican tax bill rigged the system against working people," Abrams said Tuesday night. "We owe more to the millions of everyday folks who keep our economy running."
"This administration chooses to cage children and keep families apart," she went on. "Democrats stand ready to effectively secure our ports and borders, but.. America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants, not walls."
While TV host Stephen Colbert had joked that Cardi B should be doing the response, it was almost as surprising that Abrams ended up being the actual pick. After all, it's the first time in the history of the address that a black woman will be giving the rebuttal.
That Abrams was chosen for the task was in and of itself a huge deal, Linda-Susan Beard, a professor of Africana studies at Bryn Mawr College, tells Elite Daily in an interview.
"A black woman has never done this, nor has someone who was a non-seated legislator done this," Beard says. "So she's making history. Everything about this is historical and precedent-breaking."
Beard says she was surprised to learn that it was Abrams, who lost the Georgia gubernatorial race by a narrow margin in the 2018 midterms, who'd be representing the party on Tuesday.
"It was telling that the rebuttal was going to come from a black woman, given everything Trump has said in such a cavalier way to devalue black women and dehumanize black people in general," Beard says. "It's an irony of history."
Trump's former attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen in a Vanity Fair interview alleged that Trump has said some jaw-dropping things about black people specifically over the years, and the president has repeatedly made statements that have been interpreted as racist. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on Beard's statement as well as Cohen's allegations of his comments, but did not receive a response as of publication.
The move to chose Abrams signaled a shift for the Democratic party that appeared to be leaning in to its diverse constituency and further branding itself as the part that represents a wider swath of Americans. It's a key moment in a larger turning point for the Democratic party ahead of 2020.
"[Democrats] put a stake in the ground when they elected all of those women in the new Congress, and this is the continuation, the decision not to retreat from that," Beard says, "They're telling the electorate, 'We're in for a template change.' They didn't pick someone who's going to be centrist. They're not going to be accommodating anymore."
Beard adds that Abrams is also a highly educated and experienced leader, said to be a straight shooter who speaks articulately and precisely. This might've stood out to viewers as being in contrast to Trump's flair for exaggeration, and even downright false and misleading statements, as The Washingon Posts' running fact-check tally has made clear.
And Abrams certainly did not mince her words on Tuesday.
"The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness, and abandoned not just our people, but our values," Abrams added.
While her 2018 loss in the gubernatorial race was marred by allegations of voter suppression and fraud, it seems that she's more than overcome that loss — she's barreling ahead, and taking down roadblocks along the way.
Abrams' speech on Tuesday reminds Beard of the writer bell hooks, who chose to write under name of her ancestor to in her honor to give voice to that history. "That's what I see with this invitation," Beard says. "That black women, women, people of color have their voice."