While the Democratic House leader could have been simply showing unity by applauding Trump at various moments during the speech, Pelosi's liberal supporters have twisted it into praise for the California congresswoman. Washington Post style reporter Monica Hesse even penned a piece headlined, “The exquisite shade of Nancy Pelosi’s applause at the State of the Union.”
The Post claimed Pelosi’s clapping as “withering,” “pitying” and “Lucille Bluth-like in its contemptuousness,” referencing the alcoholic matriarch from the Netflix series "Arrested Development." The column even praised comedian Patton Oswalt for declaring that Pelosi invented the “f--- you” clap.
“This was a derogatory clap, make no mistake. This was mockery wearing a half-baked costume of politeness,” Hesse wrote. “Her lips mostly remained either pursed or puckered, as if the entire speech was a bit of gristle that must be endured before it could be discreetly spit into a napkin.”
The style reporter claimed Pelosi’s applause “had the distinct vibe of a parent applauding a kindergartner for tying his shoes” and displayed “the art of stealing someone’s thunder without saying anything at all.”
The Post had a second headline about the incident, “‘Queen of Condescending Applause’: Nancy Pelosi clapped at Trump, and the Internet lost it,” in which reporter Allyson Chiu fawned over the viral sensation referred to as a “literal clapback.”
The New York Times also covered the applause with a headline, “As Pelosi Applauds Trump, the Internet Sees a Clapback,” that described the House Speaker as “a vision in suffragist white, tilted head, pursed lips and outreached arms” during Trump’s address.
“The Internet saw acres of shade dispensed by a skilled politician firmly in control, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and social media users turned Ms. Pelosi’s wordless gesture into a viral meme,” Times London weekend editor Yonette Joseph wrote. “The House speaker’s clapping almost stole the spotlight.”
The Times did point out that “some took offense at the clap,” pointing to an author who tweeted that “Pelosi’s sarcastic clap is a consummate example of the biggest breakdown in American society: lack of respect.”
Although we don’t know if Pelosi deliberately came off as sarcastic, the moment quickly turned into an Internet meme that presumably isn’t going away anytime soon. Esquire called it the “unimpressed clap,” while Mashable called it “an incredibly powerful image.”
Mediaite editor-at-large Colby Hall pointed out that Twitter is “obsessed” with Pelosi’s clapping skills.
“It was a very specific, and perhaps sarcastic, clapback directed toward the commander in chief that appears to have captured the attention of visitors of the World Wide Web,” Hall wrote before spotlighting several high-profile fans of Pelosi’s applause.
“I’m sure is [sic] pissing off Trump this AM,” Obeidallah wrote.
“Through a single clap, Speaker Pelosi tells Trump she’s going to dog walk him. Iconic picture for the ages,” surgeon Eugene Gu, who runs an anti-Trump YouTube channel, wrote.
Author Tessa Dare wrote, “God bless every American who screencapped this moment.”