The President walked in to Congress overnight to the euphoric cheers of a fiercely tribal and united Republican party.

But the image that will ricochet around America was one of spectacular division. The Cold War between President Trump and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi erupted into a fiery confrontation, without them exchanging a word.

The two great antagonists in American politics didn't even try to hide their mutual loathing.

At the start, the President refused to shake the extended hand of Speaker Pelosi, a breach of protocol never witnessed in the House chamber in modern times.

At the end, came a moment of even greater drama. Pelosi ripped up her copy of the President's speech. Multiple copies for good measure.It was an image that will surely come to define this era.

Pelosi ripped up her copy of the President's speech. Multiple copies for good measure. Credit: AP

The question is what political damage that gesture will cause Democrats.

Millions of Americans - even in these venomous times - expect the President (or at least the Presidency) to be treated with reverence and respect. That is especially true during a State of the Union address, the most formal occasion in the political calendar.

During the speech itself, Donald Trump was in full triumphalist mode. He was jubilant about the strength of the American economy, and rehearsed lines we will hear many times on the 2020 campaign trail.

The divisions on display in Congress reflect those of the country. Republican members of Congress were chanting for four more years of his Presidency; Democrats interrupted his speech with protests.

And the day of political drama in Washington is set to continue. At 4pm Eastern Time today, 9pm in the UK, the Senate will acquit President Trump at the end of his impeachment trial.

The great irony - the reality that enrages Democrats - is that he has emerged emboldened and politically unscathed.