I have never really been a fan of the State of the Union Address, especially over the past 20 years.
What should be a moment of unity, whether in opposition or support for the president’s politics, has turned into a spectacle, just another opportunity to show how dysfunctional our country seems at times. The State of the Union has become just another wedge some use to promote the false belief we are a divided nation. The true division is one promoted by extremists from both sides of our political spectrum, a disunion not embraced by the majority of Americans.
Article II, Section 3, Clause 1, of the U.S. Constitution states the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” It does not state how often, when and by what method of delivery. In fact, President Trump could have tweeted the address, in all of its glory, 140-characters at a time. I am sure the Democrats would look upon each tweet as “death by a thousand cuts,” or in this case cellphone dings.
Regardless of the method of delivery, the reaction would be the same. Depending on what extreme you sit within, Trump’s speech was either unifying or created further divisions. However, most Americans who watched/listened to the speech in general liked the speech. In fact one poll from CBS (which received little coverage) painted a positive picture of the speech: 97 percent of Republicans, 43 percent of Democrats, and 79 percent of Independents approved of Trump’s speech. Hardly numbers that reflect a “divided nation.”
President George Washington was the first to offer the address in person, before a joint gathering of Congress. President Thomas Jefferson did not look favorably at what he felt was an unnecessarily grandiose approach used by his predecessors. Jefferson chose instead to present a written report, in many ways similar to the annual reports of companies today. Congress received Jefferson’s report and it was read into the congressional record. Congress no doubt enjoyed a pint at a local pub, toasting Jefferson for an early day. After watching the 2018 State of the Union, oh how I envy our ancestors.
The Jefferson precedent lasted more than 100 years, until 1913, with the election of President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson resurrected what is now referred to officially as “the State of the Union Address” (a phrase coined by Franklin Roosevelt).
Over the past two decades, people lacking any sense of originality or decorum have offered commentary by referring to the speech as the “State of Disunion.” This year was no different. This stale insult reflects the exaggerated lengths some go to further eviscerate that which binds us as a nation, and fans false flames to promote a state of cacophony many in our nation are not seeking, or believe is in our best interest.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not the opposition or the disagreement that concerns me, but the childish, middlebrow manner in which many Democrats show their “protest.” I have grown used to the constant discord, but the parade of symbols in support of causes was nothing more than virtue signaling on steroids: red buttons (racial crime), butterfly stickers (for Dreamers), kente sashes and ties (protesting Trump’s comments on Africa and Haiti), black clothing (#MeToo). However, it was in one of those symbols we saw a rare expression of bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans alike wore purple ribbons to express support for those suffering from the opioid epidemic. If we have the capacity to come together against common foes, we should have the ability to debate most of our differences in a way that reflects the desire of a majority of Americans.
Most likely, my opinion piece will be surrounded by those who wish to continue the discord on full display during President Trump’s first State of the Union address. I have no doubt some lazy, partisan critics and letter writers will gladly latch onto the divisiveness they condemn in our president, but condone in the actions of others they agree with. It is easy for them to join the cackle of the crowd that sat not only with indifference during President Trump’s speech, but acted in a manner many people believe was embarrassing. We are told by some on both sides of our political system that we must put “country above politics,” but they really only mean that when they stand in the governing minority.
Inflammatory rhetoric and actions were not new to Trump’s State of the Union. The most glaring example is when Republican Rep. Joe Wilson yelled “you lie!” during a joint session by President Barack Obama to Congress; an action Wilson apologized for and was censured by the House (by party lines). Ignoring Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s weak call for civility, Democrats refused to stand when the president entered the House chamber, some turned their backs on the president when he walked past, and approximately 20 Democrats boycotted the speech. Democrats at times booed, heckled, groaned, grimaced and refused to stand even in support of policies they agree with (infrastructure, family leave). All night long, when the cameras panned the floor of the House, there were Democrats making lemon-biting faces, arms folded, acting childish. Their actions show what was in their hearts, party above country. One stands out of respect for the office, not the person. You do this for the country you swore an oath to, and as an example of how to conduct yourself even in opposition.
The Democrats showed they were incapable of unity, even among their own ranks. There were at least five Democratic speeches in response to the State of the Union, which only compounded the confusion and lack of a rational opposition message. Congressman Joe Crowley of New York was not only heard heckling, “Oh, come on!” during the speech, he also accused Trump of making “racist, demonizing comments on immigrants.” Congressman Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois showed his incapacity for a cogent rebuttal with his blatant, race-baiting statement, “I was hoping to get through my life without having to witness an outwardly, explicitly racist American president, but my luck ran out.”
The 2018 State of the Union only serves to further convince me that for the sake of our national unity we should skip this charade and take the lead offered by Jefferson, and hopefully our elected representatives will heed his words (Jefferson’s 1801 Address): “The prudence and temperance of your discussions will promote within your own walls that conciliation which so much befriends rational conclusion, and by its example will encourage among our constituents that progress of opinion which is tending to unite them in object and in will.”