Seldom has the State of the Union address in the United States of America been an occasion for such bitterness between the head of the executive on the one hand and the legislature at another remove. It would be a gross understatement to describe the scenes at Capitol Hill last Tuesday as ugly; the equation would seem to be teetering to the brink. A very possible victory in the impeachment proceedings in the Senate ~ where the Republicans boast a majority ~ had perhaps buoyed Donald Trump to decline to shake the hand of the Speaker of the House of Representatives before the address.

Thus was elementary courtesy trashed in an old and once-respected democracy. There is no excuse for either side to dumb down the ugly truth. Visuals of Nancy Pelosi’s counterblast have soured the legislative discourse and astonished the world beyond America. She ripped up the speech after binning the address as a “manifesto of untruths” and a “divisive” presentation. A presidential snub has been countered with the address being torn apart and literally so.

The confrontation at Capitol Hill went beyond the merely rumbustious. Both developments were equally dramatic ~ the President’s rejection of Ms Pelosi’s hanshake and the latter ripping up a copy of his speech. As the most senior Democrat in Congress, who had initiated the impeachment inquiry into Mr Trump’s conduct, she extended her hand as the President approached to take his place on the podium. One could argue that both ought to have reacted with a scintilla of grace and civility. As it turned out, the two worthies reacted with excessive indignation.

After the President concluded his 78-minute address, Pelosi ripped up the hard copy of his speech she had in front of her with a pointed flourish. “It was the courteous thing to do, considering the alternative,” she is reported to have told the media when asked why she tore up the speech. Mr Trump’s words, she contended, “gave no comfort” to families looking for better healthcare options and he was “not truthful” about his healthcare policies.

Well and truly has the state of the union plummeted to a disgraceful level. Binned was the sobriety of the occasion, and neither President Trump nor Speaker Pelosi can evade responsibility for the decidedly unruly behaviour. Placed in historical context, the occasion lent no scope for impetuous behaviour. The Republican National Commitee has swiftly begun circulating the video of Pelosi tearing up the speech. The clip is expected to be used as a campaign plank ahead of the presidential election in November. The destruction of the speech underscored what an unprecedented State of the Union it was. Trump may yet live to fight another day, his reputation for boorishness intact.