Chanting, cheering, clapping and showing hostility toward rivals. If someone had thrown a football into the crowd at the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, I would have sworn that I was watching the Super Bowl. This American institution, like so many other aspects of our politics, has become nothing more than a spectacle for the fans at home.
Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution requires that 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.” Though this provision seems to outline a business meeting between the executive and legislative branches, the age of media has turned the address into nothing more than a publicly financed campaign rally.
Presidents from the two parties have used this platform to exaggerate their accomplishments and bury their shortcomings. The finished project is less of a report on the state of the union and more of a highly airbrushed picture of what we want America to be.
In his third State of the Union address, President Donald Trump declared, “The State of our Union is stronger than ever before!” According to the President, “our country is thriving and highly respected again!” However, this rosy picture of our society conveniently overlooks pressing issues that remain salient in citizens’ daily lives.
In America, we pride ourselves on living in the “land of the free,” but according to Freedom House, we are tied with Belize in ranking below fifty other countries in terms of the individual freedom of citizens.
The “American Dream” promises economic mobility through hard work, but we have yet to provide our citizens with the tools necessary to make this dream a reality. We rank only eighth globally for our education system, and we maintain significantly higher levels of poverty and income inequality than many other industrialized countries.
Healthcare remains a pressing issue in our country and our state. The United States ranks 37th globally for overall healthcare performance. More Americans are hospitalized for preventable diseases and carry a larger disease burden than in other comparable countries. This deficiency is especially apparent in Mississippi, where we are ranked lowest among all states in access and quality of healthcare.
While we may not be able to recognize our own flaws, other members of the global community are more perceptive. According to the Pew Research Center, other countries’ confidence in the United States has declined significantly since the Obama presidency. Global favorability of the U.S. as a whole and President Trump as a leader have improved slightly over the last year, but the statement that we are “highly respected again” does not match reality.
Admittedly, any politician with an ounce of self-preservation would emphasize his or her accomplishments as he or she faces another election cycle, but if we ever expect to make progress on our most pressing problems, we must be willing to take a candid assessment of where we are as a country and as a state.
Amy Cain is a senior philosophy and political science major from Southaven, Mississippi.