Democracy forms the backbone of our country. For many, participation comes in the form of voting, but our system requires far more than that. To be a fully functional system of governance, the constituents must be engaged and involved in the civic process on a regular basis. The largest obstacle to more engagement: a lack of trust in how people are governed. For trust in our leaders and systems, there must be accountability and recognition of where our democracy is thriving and areas where it is lacking. President Biden’s State of the Union address was an opportunity for him to showcase to the country that he delivered on past promises, is aware and ready to take on current challenges, and has a vision for the country moving forward.
We all want the same thing. Neighborhoods free of violence. Law enforcement who earn the community’s trust. Our children to come home safely.
Equal protection under the law; that’s the covenant we have with each other in America.
The most emotionally charged part of President Biden’s speech was his comments on Tyre Nichols, a young Black man who was beaten to death by police officers following a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee. The overwhelming lack of accountability and unchecked power in law enforcement is why the killing of Tyre Nichols was sadly just the most recent example of police brutality in this country. In the audience were his parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, who now fight for police reform in Tyre’s honor. The chief responsibility of law enforcement is to keep Americans safe. So, when the Black community repeatedly sees their peers killed at the hands of the police, there is no sense of trust nor hope for community building, and rightfully so. After outlining all he had done via executive action, President Biden re-issued his call for bipartisan legislation on police reform.
When I came to office, most everyone assumed bipartisanship was impossible. But I never believed it.
The most eye opening moment of the address: President Biden’s turning of GOP heckling into a live, public negotiation on fiscal policy, social security, and Medicare– seemingly coming to an agreement that both programs were off limits when it comes to future negotiations around government budgets. The social safety net allows Americans to have an income after they retire and ensure they have access to health care. Americans pay into it throughout their careers knowing, once they retire, they will not be forced to endure a life of poverty and can ensure their healthcare needs are being met without worry.
Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors.
Social programs like these are rooted in the trust we all have in our democracy: when we need help the most, when we can no longer provide for ourselves, our country has a system in place to support us. With President Biden issuing a promise to never cut Medicare, he is committing to the idea that we cannot cast aside those who have spent their days working and fighting for this country, and have spent a lifetime paying into the program.
There is no place for political violence in America. In America, we must protect the right to vote, not suppress that fundamental right. We honor the results of our elections, not subvert the will of the people.
One of the most important parts of his address, and one that resonated with many on the MPAC policy team, was his reflection on the importance of protecting our democracy. As the shadow of the January 6th Insurrection still hangs over the country, Biden’s address made it clear that there is no place for hate, bigotry, or extremism in the nation– and that political violence would not be tolerated.
The State of the Union Address was also an opportunity for President Biden to take a victory lap– and present his vision for the next two years of his administration. He spoke of accomplishing much of what he campaigned on – the largest infrastructure bill in more than 50 years, the second most impactful healthcare bill in 40 years, a strong response to COVID-19, and more. He also laid out a middle-class focused agenda that many, both online and in person, were buzzing about- an agenda that includes a raise on corporate taxes, increased taxes on stock buybacks, more legislation to further lower the cost of prescription drugs, and regulations on “junk fees” that many industries use to take advantage of low and middle-income consumers.
We must see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans. We are a good people, the only nation in the world built on an idea. That all of us, every one of us, is created equal… A nation that stands as a beacon to the world. A nation in a new age of possibilities.
While the address was undoubtedly a strong showing for the President, there were issues that were not touched upon. With the exception of immigration, ongoing issues with China, and the war between Russia and Ukraine, the President did not touch on any other foreign affairs issue. International human rights were not mentioned, despite ongoing human rights violations in a number of nations across the world. Nothing was said about refugees or the ongoing crisis in Turkey.
The State of the Union is an opportunity for the President to talk directly to everyday Americans, report on his progress in addressing issues facing the United States, and to build trust between people and their government. A vocal minority may disagree, but most would say that in his second State of the Union Address, President Biden did just that.