The battle between President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rages on in sophomoric fashion while a weary nation wonders why petty politics, personal attacks and Twitter battles are all we get out of Washington. The American people clearly deserve better and should expect more.
Pelosi appears to have won this round by rescinding the invitation for the president to deliver the State of the Union address in the House chamber, and the president has acquiesced to not delivering the speech until the government reopens.
Many have surmised that it is impossible for the president to deliver a State of the Union address while the government is shut down. We should remember that this is about the state of the union, not the state of the government. We should also remember that elected officials and federal workers are charged to run the government, not the country. The country is the responsibility of the people.
State of the Union addresses have devolved over the past several decades into laundry lists advocating for government-centric solutions and a platform for delivering partisan applause lines. The speeches are typically scored by the number of standing ovations and the presence of special guests, who sadly become oratorical props, in the gallery. Such speeches are hardly worth the hype and are rarely recorded as remarkable in the history books.
The president can deliver a report on government in writing to Congress, which he should. Then he should prove that a president can transcend the state of the political moment and deliver a clarion call to the American people in a true State of the Union speech.
The president should address the nation on Tuesday night. He should do it standing in the center of the Capitol rotunda — the middle of the seat of power — surrounded by scenes of America’s finest hours, greatest triumphs and most important moments. He could summon the spirit of Lincoln, who, during the greatest division the nation has known, felt that the construction work on the Capitol rotunda must continue to signify and symbolize our commitment to the future of the United States. A 1863 conversation about the Capitol dome was reported in the memoirs of John Eaton, published in 1907. Eaton, who served under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, reported that Lincoln said, “If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.” Trump standing in the rotunda should send the same sign.
He shouldn’t mention Democrats or Republicans, other than to call on both sides to live up to the ideals they profess to believe. If he mentions border security and a long list of spending priorities, or if he focuses on the stock market or unemployment rates as the crowning standard for American greatness, the speech won’t be worth the effort or current fight just for the chance to deliver it.
The president should set aside all bombast, every exaggerated story or stretched statistic and anything, including his own ego, that would detract from the real message of a uniquely American moment. One friend commented to me that if the speech is about the speaker and not the hearer, it will be a message only multiplied by a factor of one. If, on the other hand, it’s about the 328 million individuals who make up this nation, it will be magnified 328 million times.
The president can rightly declare, in the words of Scott Rasmussen, that “Politics has failed, but America will not!” He can then lay out all that unites the nation, the principles and values, the commitment to community and the rights and blessings of freedom, because that is the actual state of the nation, rather than the political state of the moment. He should then outline why American citizenship matters, clarify what it is our government should guarantee and why we should stop looking to centralized power in Washington to solve the country’s pressing problems.29 comments on this story
From the middle of the rotunda, the president can remind the American people that the state of the union has little to do with those who occupy the 435 seats at one end of the Capitol or the 100 occupants of the seats at the other, nor is it the person sitting in the seat in the Oval Office. The state of the union has been and will always be determined and driven by the discussions of a family sitting around a dinner table at home, community members at the counter of a local café, a student sitting at a desk or the caregiver at the side of a hospital bed — these are the true seats of American power. Those who occupy them determine the true state of the nation.
Note: Trump is unlikely to attempt such an address. Stay tuned; we will deliver a possible speech in this space in the days ahead.