The Best, Worst, and Weirdest Claps of the State of the Union

VICE's resident clap critic reviews Trump's address.

by Eve Peyser
Jan 31 2018, 5:30pm

On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address. Please clap. You can read all about that here, but let's get to the real nitty gritty of any SOTU, which is 50 percent speech—who cares?—and 50 percent applause—now I'm paying attention! For inside my hardened political commentator exterior lurks the soul of a humble clap critic, a pundit of praise, judge of jeers, the applause arbiter supreme.

Let's start with our supreme leader, the one and only Donald John Trump, who wasn't afraid to clap for himself very, very loudly.

President Donald Trump

Like a series of lizards falling from a great height onto a tin roof, the president's applause for himself was steady, loud, and grating. While the haters may argue that the president's physical display of affection for himself indicates how dangerously bloated his ego has become, I can't help but have an iota of respect for the fact that he was able to consistently applaud himself with such ferocity. It demonstrates his better-than-average wrist strength and palm endurance. Could someone with small hands do that? Probably not!

Clap score (graded on a scale from 1–5 claps): 3 CLAPS for effort.

Senator Bernie Sanders

While the Democrats kept their clapping to an absolute minimum in a ritualistic display of disdain almost no one cares about, Bernie's efficient, light patter of applause—where he used the fingers on his left hand to light tap his right palm—is clear evidence that he is a seasoned clapper. Clearly, the Vermont senator was not pleased with Trump's speech, but his dissatisfied demeanor, the forlorn look in his eyes as he engaged in a reluctant bout of applause, was deeply relatable. Brava, comrade!

Clap score: 4 CLAPS for form.

Senator Tim Kaine

Folks, I'm not going to sugarcoat this: Former vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine has a very weird clap. The senator did not engage in the traditional form of applause, instead holding his hands perpendicular to each other and crashing them together like a child trying to break a pair of toys. I have deep respect for any person who performs a physical feat such as a clap with such little enthusiasm and the absolute minimum amount of energy, but Kaine's clap was distractingly odd, and once I saw the camera cut to him, I couldn't help but feel fixated on his technique for the remainder of the SOTU.

Clap score: 5 CLAPS for originality.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley

Haley, a mainstream conservative, is also a traditional clapper—clearly not the type to try out any new moves during the year's biggest event in political applause. Paws upright, her muscles are relaxed enough to sustain the amount of hand-cheering she needs to make it through the event.

Clap score: 3 CLAPS for technique.

First Lady Melania Trump

The first lady, who is reportedly displeased with the president after last week's reports of his infidelity with and subsequent $130,000 payout to the porn star Stormy Daniels, did not look particularly excited to be in attendance last night. Like Haley, Mrs. Trump is also a traditional clapper when it comes to form: hands upright, lightly tapping of her palms against each other. Her applause, however, appeared to be as reluctant as the Democrats'. She seldom suspended her grimace with any sort of smile, only giving her husband a standing O when she was required to.

Clap score: 5 CLAPS for bravery.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Sessions's applause was lighter, faster, and somehow fiercer than your average clap, while Mattis's claps appeared both rushed and uninspired. Mnuchin and Tillerson exhibited interesting clapping techniques, lazily mashing their fingers against one another.

Sessions's clap score: 3 CLAPS for speed.
Mattis's clap score: 1 CLAP for energy.
Mnuchin's clap score: 1 CLAPS for form.
Tillerson's clap score: 2 CLAPS for consistency.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry

The energy secretary slapped his right hand into his left palm like a child grabbing the hand of his sibling while yelling, "Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!"

Clap score: 1 CLAP for originality (or lack thereof).

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner

The president's daughter and son-in-law have remarkably similar clapping style, although Ivanka opted to join her hands together while her husband preferred to slap his right hand into the palm of his left. Ivanka's clapping was refined and engaged, while Kushner's applause looked obligatory, a thoughtless action he had to engage in while in the midst of a daydream.

Ivanka 's clap score: 3 CLAPS for effort.
Jared's clap score: 2 CLAPS for energy (which was low).

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson

Like Tim Kaine, Carson's clapping was curious: Not one to waste an ounce of energy, the doctor and author of Gifted Hands kept his mitts as close together as possible, lightly tapping his palms against each other. His hands were in an ideal position for prayer, except his fingers were too spread out. A mild-mannered clap from a mild-mannered man.

Clap score: 5 CLAPS for creativity.

Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan

The vice president's stiff demeanor had obvious influence on his applause methodology. He softly pounded his erect right hand into his limp left claw, his face stiffly locked into a half-smile. The House speaker, on the other hand, clapped as if he was about to shake his own hand, with a rhythmic, consistent form.

Pence 's clap score: 1 CLAP for looking so stiff.
Ryan's clap score: 4 CLAPS for successfully pulling off a clap that looked kind of normal.

The Congressional Black Caucus

When the president boasted that "African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded,” the Congressional Black Caucus looked nonplussed, most of its members declining to offer Trump, a man infamous for his racism, any applause at all. Although it was light on any actual clapping—and as your clap critic, I am always thirsty for applause—I'll admit it was the best cut to the audience of the evening.

Clap score: 5 CLAPS for not clapping at all.

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Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump
Nikki Haley