On Tuesday, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE will fulfill a Constitutional responsibility of his office by delivering the State of the Union Address before Congress. We can assume that, in Trump parlance, the president will assert that not only is the state of the union strong but that it is better than under any president in the history of the union. That would be incorrect.
Our nation is battered, broken and addicted to easy answers over hard choices.
What is true is that the economy has in many ways continued to recover from the Great Recession born out of the presidency of George W. Bush. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act that he pushed through Congress with no GOP support. The Recovery Act worked.
Trump will praise the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that passed Congress under his watch and with his support. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act provided massive tax cuts to the wealthy and was opposed by most faith bodies in the United States. The U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops noted:
“…the Act contains a number of problematic provisions that will have dramatic negative consequences, particularly for those most in need. Among other things, the Joint Committee on Taxation indicates that the bill will eventually raise taxes on those with lower incomes while simultaneously cutting taxes for the wealthy. This is clearly problematic, especially for the poor.
“The repeal of the personal exemption will cause larger families, including many in the middle class, to be financially worse off. The final bill creates a large deficit that, as early as next year, will be used as a basis to cut programs that help the poor and vulnerable toward stability.”
The president will assert that Wall Street loves his tax plan. They do. But any short-term gain in economic indicators will, in short order, evaporate as deficits balloon and the Congress, again with Trump’s support, calls for new cuts in health care and other programs for seniors and the poor.
What is the best way to judge the state of the union today?
I am reminded of a speech given the year before my birth by Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. senator from New York and former attorney general of the United States. He told students at the University of Kansas in 1968 that:
“Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product — if we judge the United States of America by that — that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.”
“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
“It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
The United States is an exceptional nation. Our diversity, embrace of pluralism and democratic institutions makes the United States unique. Sadly, these great traits are all under assault by the Trump administration today.
Today — as we judge the state of the Union — we must keep in mind that white nationalists freely rally in our cities. The president of the United States has embraced an effectively Muslim ban to keep members of one religion out of our nation. Immigrants and women are taunted with racist and misogynist slurs on social media. Those taunts come from cowards who hide behind anonymous Twitter handles but also, sometimes, from the president himself.
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Economic indicators alone do not show us the state of the union. We are more divided in our nation than at any time since the Civil War. The president and his allies stoke that division for partisan gain.
As a minister in the United Church of Christ (and as a parent and professor), I believe that the state of the union can only be strong when our political leaders put the common good of the nation over the temporal political gains of one party or another. Each day, Americans face racism, sexism, homophobia and the moral evils of a now unchecked tax policy that allows the gap between the rich and poor to thrive while poverty grows.
For the majority of Americans who reject the rancor of today, I say the state of our union is weak but the people of this country are resilient. We must — through our colleges and universities, churches, mosques and synagogues, city halls and state capitals — resist the politics of our time and reassert a moral vision of our nation in which all are lifted up and none left behind.
The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister, is the director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University in Oregon.