On January 12th 2016 at 9pm, President Obama is scheduled to give his final State of the Union speech (SOTU). This constitutionally mandated address was formally known as the “Annual Message” from 1790 to 1946. Since 1947, it’s been called the State of the Union and the purpose of the speech has evolved from agency budget requests to reports on the health of the economy. In essence, presidents have flexibility in defining the contours of their address to the nation. When President Obama gives his address, America would benefit greatly if he were to say this:
“Fellow Americans, the State of our Union should be an embarrassment to all Americans. One of our two major political parties has a racist bigot leading the polls for the Republican nomination. Over the past seven years, my presidency experienced unprecedented political gridlock and disrespect for the office that I hold because of the color of my skin. The Republican Party made earnest attempts to undermine my authority as I represented the United States in agreements that have worldwide implications — such as the Iran deal and climate change. The Republican Party continues to demonize government as an entity of potential good for fellow citizens unless your name is Exxon or Boeing. Remember, corporations are people in their eyes.
But I, along with fellow Democrats, have not developed a counter narrative that details a clear vision of government and the Democratic Party. Yes, we’ve passed some legislation that helped get the country out of recession, saved the auto industry and insured millions of Americans. However, our lack of cogency regarding government’s strengths and weaknesses gives political cover to Congress members who seek to fundamentally shrink government to insignificance. As Democrats, verbalizing principles of fairness, expansion of rights and policies rooted in lifting poor and middle-income Americans – becomes muddled and unconvincing because our hands are in the same bucket as republicans when it comes to corporations and wall street’s role in our politics.
The latest $1.15 trillion dollar spending and tax bill negotiated by democratic and republican leaders –and signed by me, illustrates how we operationalize corporate and Wall Street priorities in policy. I admit my failings and complicity in this rigged game of corruption. I’ve transcended nothing in this regard. Congress as a whole, will not change this dynamic of entrenched corporate power and their guiding principle of profit over people. Corporations will do everything possible to buy access and influence. The change we need for a better America will not come from them. The change we need will have to come from you.
My fellow Americans, it’s important that I address some uncomfortable truths. Since I’ve been President of the United States, there have been more threats on my life than any other president in American history. Why is that? It’s because I’m black. During my years in office, black men across this nation have been on the receiving end of deadly target practice by police. And we fail to see it as a hate crime. Our country engages in a collective objectification of women in workplaces, pop culture and the selling of products. Domestic violence and rape happens with regularity, but it’s not viewed as a public health crisis.
Domestic terrorism that sees children, church goers and college students sprayed with bullets has not pushed you to wage the battle needed to overcome cowardly politicians and the National Rifle Association to bring about significant gun legislation. Americans saw 1.2 trillion dollars of its wealth wiped away because of corporate greed and manipulation of home buyer’s dreams, but you continue to elect and reelect politicians who push policies and vote to put your wealth at risk yet again.
My fellow Americans, across this nation we are seeing acute cases of the ‘isms’ (racism, sexism, fascism, obstructionism and individualism) manifest apathy and hatred. It’s time to be honest about your fear of an uncertain future. Issues of race, immigration, concentration of wealth and income inequality are not going to be resolved until there is an acknowledgment that our current path is destructive to all of us.
The diversity of this nation calls for an American revolution in the investment of education that not only recognizes America’s shameful past and deeds, but builds on the ingenuity and potential of every student. We don’t need to live alongside diversity to appreciate it and understand its importance to the collective health of our country. America’s educational system from pre-k through college needs to be restructured and accessible to all Americans. If we ask ourselves, how can it be that universities across this nation charge $50,000 a year to attend? Private schools that charge $20,000 a year to attend Kindergarten? An educational system that reinforces elitism, debt, unfair advantages and narcissism will inevitably crumble at the presumption of its rationale.
As president, I’ve traveled across this nation and I fundamentally believe in the democratic project called America. I won’t leave this office as a pessimist. My presidency was filled with daily briefs and late night hours contemplating decisions that will forever impact our country. I ask all of you to learn from my imperfections and reexamine what it means to be called an American. May our individual and collective struggles as a nation, bind us together. The State of our Union faces uncertain times as we move forward. Search for answers, keep asking questions and push for change. Our nation’s ideals gives us the opportunity to envision and create a better future for all.
God bless you, and God bless The United States of America.
Writer, trained Social Worker and Mental Health Therapist. Husband, father and anti-racist at my core.