On Feb. 7, President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress. The SOTU is a long-standing tradition that is built around Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution requiring the President to “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.” President Biden delivered remarks regarding the U.S military position, economy, the fentanyl epidemic, border security, drug prices, racial equality, infrastructure, climate change and the raising of the debt ceiling.
During his speech, there was the usual stand and applause of his own party members, Democrats, while Republicans remained seated for much of his speech. There were, of course, instances where the House chamber stood unanimously in applause of topics both parties agreed on. Interestingly, both parties stood when Biden recognized Tyre Nichols’ family in attendance and called for police reform. This partisan practice where the President’s party cheers regularly and the other party remains seated has held true for decades but has grown more evident and divisive over time. I remember watching President Barack Obama’s last SOTU, President Biden’s first SOTU and all of President Donald Trump’s SOTUs and feeling disdained at plenty of examples where I believe there should have been collective applause regardless of one’s political affiliation.
In President Trump’s 2019 SOTU, he shared that unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanic Americans reached an all-time low with income inequality falling for two straight years and by the largest amount in over a decade. Republicans cheered and Democrats remained seated, and I recall the CNN footage cutting into a few glares from the Congressional Black Caucus at this point in the speech. Is this not an objectively good thing? In the moment I found it very hypocritical for Democrats who espouse to be “champions of minority rights” not to cheer at this. However, this is often the case for both sides of the aisle in recent SOTU speeches.
In Biden’s SOTU this year, quite a few House Republicans, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, were recorded on CSPAN shouting “Liar” and “booing” in the middle of the SOTU. Biden managed to get Republicans to cheer for preserving Medicare and Social Security after a digression from his speech to actually discuss legislation with this section of the House, a first in SOTU history.
Policy and party aside, the SOTU has and continues to represent when partisanship trumps the good of all Americans. Congress is elected to serve all Americans, not just Democrats or Republicans, and our leaders need to start acting as such. Congress needs to start prioritizing objectively good things, especially when the whole world is watching our president (regardless of party) deliver to Congress and the world the state of America’s union. Give it a thought — what would our country look like if we put partisanship aside for the common good? Sure, there will still be partisan differences and those are not inherently bad, but what is an issue is when partisanship prevents us from recognizing the common objective good.