Tonight we will likely hear an accounting of the country’s successes over the last 3 years in President Trump’s State of the Union address. We’ll hear about employment, consumer confidence, and other indicators of national prosperity, which we should celebrate while continuing to strive for even greater opportunity for all Americans. We’re also likely to hear the rhetoric of fear intended to further divide us and rally more Americans to support the president’s continued abuses of power.
We might also hear taunting references to the President’s likely impending acquittal at the hands of Senate Republicans, who are nearly unanimous in defending his every violation of the Constitution. The looming vote will likely be a seal of approval on a president steadily breaking down checks on his power. The authorities the Senate will soon surrender will almost certainly embolden Trump’s efforts to undermine the values and institutions that protect our freedom, especially including our free and fair elections.
No matter what President Trump says or does in his report on the nation, we must now reflect on the state of our union.
It’s often said that we’re divided as a people. It’s true that political polarization is reaching a fever pitch. It’s true, also, that ethno-nationalism is on the rise, as are political, racial and other forms of extremist violence. Meanwhile, many of our elected leaders and political candidates not only embrace divisiveness, they amplify it, shape it, and push it for their own political gain. It’s created an atmosphere of animosity, distrust and fear that is perhaps unmatched in our post-Civil War history.
The forces driving wedges between us are real, but they are not strong enough to succeed so long as we’re willing to work together against them. That means rejecting the language of partisan rancor and putting country over party. More than anything, it means connecting with our communities, putting less significant differences aside to work towards common, essential purposes. If we strengthen our bonds and find common ground in strengthening our democracy, then no populist, polemicist or partisan can stand in our way.
That work falls on our shoulders. We’re used to looking to our elected leaders to do the hard work of governing for us. And maybe, as a result, we’ve taken our responsibilities as citizens for granted. The good news is, no matter how difficult the times or unfit our leaders, the ultimate power for self-governance rests in our hands, unless we allow it to be taken from us.
This year will be pivotal in defining our future. Will we write a script for a more prosperous nation, unified in defense of liberty, equality and truth? Or will we succumb to partisanship and fear, opening the door for authoritarianism and mass indifference to take hold of our nation?
That decision is not in any one politician’s hands. It is in our hands alone. However we may feel about our politics, we must have faith in our ability as a people to steer this nation to safer and more prosperous waters.