After watching President Biden’s speech last night, I couldn’t help but be struck by the antiquated and polarizing nature of the State of the Union speech. Democrats sitting on one side of the chamber, Republicans on the other, the minority party selectively clapping and the majority showing ravenous support for the President, regardless of whether or not they agree with his actual proposals.
It’s more show than substance, which is unfortunately what the state of American politics has become. Posturing and re-posturing to adjust to the latest news and polling of the day. It provides the vocal detractors of the President a platform for heckling like the infamous “YOU LIE,” while those sharing the President’s political affiliation are obligated to cheer for the broad platitudes stated, as many in the Progressive caucus did after being equally complicit in holding up the very infrastructure plan they supported last night.
Symbolically, the State of the Union is an important milestone, with the leaders of each of the 3 co-equal branches of Government convened in one location, showing the intersection of power in this country and displaying accountability to the American people.
The symbolism is a powerful message of unity, but in the age of the internet and 24 hour news, this act of unity has become a stage for political showmanship, with elected Members of Congress sitting in the chamber tweeting or texting aides about their media hit and what they should and shouldn’t say when they attack/support the President, respective to their party affiliation of course.
And before I’m accused of being a naysayer with no suggestion of my own, here’s what I think: we live in a time when information is available like never before. A President displaying accountability to the co-equal branches of government and the American people as a whole is not the same as it was 50 or even 25 years ago. The President deserves a platform to speak, to tell the country where we are and where we are going without the demonization/idol worship that accompanies the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union address.
Let the President address the nation from the Oval Office, uninterrupted and unpraised, giving a true status update for the nation. Let the voters hear what he has to say, unbiased by who is standing and who is sitting when he states every point. Those who want to do their due diligence and see what their favorite firebrand is saying will continue to do so, but maybe, just maybe, some people will sit and listen and reflect on what the leader of the free world has to say, untarnished by the politics that accompanies the current structure.
Maybe this is idealistic thinking, but watching the speech last night, I couldn’t help but feel that at just the right moment, the cameras would pan to the well known faces of both parties, highlighting what you as a Democrat/Republican should endorse/decry. It’s a disservice to all those working to bridge the divide and find common ground in a time when more voices are elevated than ever before.
So in closing, my fellow Americans (and anyone else taking the time to read this diatribe), I say to you, the State of the State of the Union is….a work in progress.