The US President is Constitutionally obligated to inform Congress on the State of the Union and meet with both Houses. While there is no specific time when or specific number of times the President has to carry out his Constitutional mandates, nor is there any requirement that the President deliver a speech, the State of the Union Address has evolved to fulfill this Constitutional requirement. Typically taking place on a Tuesday in late January or early February on national television, the State of the Union Address has become less about informing Congress on the actual State of the Union and more about the President laying out his political agenda to the American People.
President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address is Tuesday, January 29, 2018. Typically, most State of the Union Addresses conclude the state of the Union is strong. Trump’s speech will be no different. Most State of the Union Addresses afford the President an opportunity to take credit for the positive things happening in the Country and express a desire to make progress on issues the President prioritizes. Trump’s speech will be no different. Like past Presidents, Trump will either strike a consolatory note in an effort to cultivate bipartisan cooperation or a confrontation tone in an effort to coerce bipartisan support on mutual priorities.
If Trump’s first State of the Union Address is like the typical State of the Union Address, it will largely be a pointless political exercise that will speak to his base and further alienate detractors. Alternatively, Trump’s first State of the Union Address could become a defining moment. President Gerald Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Address is considered by some to be one of the best in history. In the face of a rising National Debt, inflation, and recession, Gerald Ford stated, “I must say to you that the State of the Union is not good.” In other words, he was honest. He was honest about the State of the Union. More importantly, he was honest about the problems the country needed to deal with.
There are positive trends in the US, including positive economic trends. Unfortunately, the US faces a ballooning National Deficit and National Debt that make the fiscal issues of 1975 laughable. The US is also struggling to overcome the perpetual threat of government shutdowns, the need for massive civil infrastructure upgrades, and a growing number of Americans who foresee a bleak future for themselves. Like the post-Nixon era of Gerald Ford, Trump’s Presidency is steeped in political strife. Like Ford, Trump also struggles with a growing lack of confidence in his leadership.
Unfortunately, the positive economic outlook currently in play and partisan-fueled denial afford President Trump the room to avoid the problems weighing down America. These things, as well as others, afford Trump the room to be disingenuous in his State of the Union Address. To make the most of his State of the Union Speech, he needs to be honest. He needs to use the platform to show true leadership by tackling serious issues head on. He needs to honestly confront the political division and dysfunction then invite lawmakers to join him in honest problem solving. The state of the Union is a lot better than that of other Unions and the state of the Union at other times in US history, but the are grave concerns that threaten to rip the Union apart and down. The future of the Union is under threat and that threat must be addressed.
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