The State of the Union Address has been an tradition for the US President since 1913 when Woodrow Wilson set the precedent for delivering an annual update to a joint session of Congress in person. Although there is no legal requirement for an annual speech by the head of the Executive Branch, the State Of the Union Address fulfills the President’s obligation under Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution to give “… the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient,….” For Donald Trump, history will remember that his second State of the Union Address was delivered weeks later than expected due to a historically long government shutdown. Given the circumstances surrounding the event, it is easy to conclude the Union is far from strong. To be bluntly honest, the state of America’s political system is reaching a low point and that is hurting the State of the Union.
In the run up to the 2019 State of the Union Address, much attention has been put on the political nature of the Presidential speech. While the State of the Union Address was introduced as a political tool by President Wilson, the polarized and divisive state of today’s political climate, coupled with the raw hatred many critics have for Donald Trump, makes the political nature of a Trump Presidential address more noticeable. Some have even called for an end to the spectacle, deriding it as nothing more than a platform for the President to push his political views. Quite frankly, modern media and the importance of the US Presidency already affords the President any number of opportunities to stump for his political causes whenever he so chooses to capitalize utilize them, so the State of the Union Address is now more or less a ceremonial occasion rather than a pragmatic opportunity to campaign. More importantly, one would expect a political figure elected for his political views to discuss his policy positions shaped by his politics.
Consequently, the State of the Union Address should not be viewed as an inherently offensive platform, even if it is politically skewed by the President’s political positions. If the American People, political commentators, and elected officials would view the State of the Union Address from an apolitical perspective, the tradition would serve a practical purpose. If the US political system was not so partisan and not so deeply polarized, a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress would be seen as nothing more than opportunity for the President to report on the actual State of the Union and offer public policy options that might help strengthen the Union. It would be seen as an opportunity for the President to address the representatives of the American People in front of the American People and start an open, honest discussion on the direction of the United States as a country.
If elected officials and their constituents could put aside politics after the election and focus on consensus governance, the State of the Union Address would be a moment of responsive, proper governance. If not for the politicization of the State of the Union Address by the President and the political parties, it would be an opportunity for the US President to openly reach out to the Congressional representatives of the American People and launch the US government into the conversations it needs to have on public policies. It would also be an invitation for the American People to embrace civil engagement. Unfortunately, the annual State of the Union Address by the US President is generally wasted, because it is almost always used as little more than a political platform. The President tends to set out an agenda driven by his politics. Many Presidents, such as Barack Obama, have attempted to make concessions to the political minority in Congress, but the focus is on pushing public policy solutions and directives that are inherently divisive.
To prove the Union of the United States is, indeed, strong as almost all Presidents attest to without regard to the realities of current events, the President would have to offer a bluntly honest speech on the issues faced by the American People. He would also have to launch initiatives that attempt to unearth unifying public policies solutions and restore proper governance. For the State of the Union Address to have value, especially under the divisive leadership of Donald Trump, it would have to forsake its political goals and politics-inspired public policies. A Trump State of the Union Address would have to break the mold. Regrettably, the State of the Union is not good. Although there are plenty of issues to highlight, the biggest threat to the United States of America comes from the state of US politics. The political leaders of the United States are so divided that they can no longer lead.
What makes things particularly problematic is that US political leadership is vigorously leading people to embrace divisive and reject compromise under all circumstances. Political leaders can no longer overcome their political divisions and facilitate proper governance. The fact that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, disagree is not necessarily an issue. It is that responsive governance that provides representation to the constituents of political leaders and all other US citizens is no longer a shared goal. The goal of political leaders is to push political agendas, not represent the interests and views of their constituents. Their goal is to bend the institutions of government to serve the interests of the politically influential, not provide proper governance for all US citizens. Not only are political leaders failing to seek consensus and build compromise where possible, they are also failing to stand against their own political parties and political allies when they adopt positions that go against the interests of their constituents. The State of US politics is weak, because US political leaders no longer serve those they try to lead. The State of the Union is weak, because US politics fosters improper governance.
Read old posts