Is the State of Our Union Strong?

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The State of the Union is an address that all Americans look to for both a review of the past year and the hope and promise of the future. Seven very familiar words – “the state of our union is strong” seemed to take on a different feeling. So much so, I had to ask. Is the state of our union really strong?

The president called for Americans – Democrat and Republican alike – to choose greatness. Yet the speech clearly levied a threat that if there is no end to “ridiculous, partisan investigations” there is little hope of any legislation. In the address, a wall remained front and center in the administration’s plan for security on the southern border. Without the wall there may yet be another federal government shutdown in mid-February. That, I’m sad to say, does not speak of a strong union.

One speech cannot possibly give a clear picture of the state of our union. You don’t have to look very far for events that contradict the strength talked about in the address. But let’s first talk about the actual picture painted by the address. There has been no departure from the fear-mongering by this administration. Not only were we told what threatens America from the administration’s view, we were shown who they are. When the president wanted to highlight his claim of an emergent threat of illegal immigration, he presented the image of the white working class family losing a family member to violence at the hands of a person in the country without documentation. For good measure, showcasing a Latino ICE special agent who works on the border when talking about human smuggling and trafficking was another subtle nuance. Finally, should we believe it was simply coincidence that discussion of prison reform is where African Americans were showcased by the president? These examples clearly state that the administration’s message about people of color remains strong. Negative, but strong.

Then there’s Roger. ‘Poor Roger’. That’s essentially what I heard when Republicans complained recently about how FBI agents (working without pay during the government shutdown) executed search and arrest warrants at the Florida home of long-time political operative Roger Stone. Stone, a close associate of the president, Paul Manafort and Roy Cohen (to name just a few), was indicted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller in late January. This may be the most recent example of the “. . . ridiculous, partisan investigation” referenced in the SOTU.

But wait, something doesn’t add up here – Republican response to Stone’s arrest had nothing to do with the investigations swirling around the president and his men. Republicans were clearly engaging in a use of force conversation when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Doug Collins (R-GA) wrote memos to the FBI mandating an explanation of their enforcement operation. That was also the case when former Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, now a television commentator, called the FBI operation intimidation of Roger Stone . Surely this is a conversation keeping in line with what we’ve seen from these public servants regarding overreach of law enforcement with regard to unarmed black and brown people killed by police across the country. Right?

I can’t imagine what would motivate a former U. S. Attorney to all but say that the FBI agents’ pre-dawn warrant executions were excessive. Advocating that FBI agents not protect themselves during an enforcement operation? Unheard of! Never stating that the judge authorizing the warrants also authorizes the pre-dawn nature of warrants? Misleading! Christie was saying the FBI action was purely political. Was it simply a matter of selling his book or does he really believe such a bizarre commentary on how the FBI executed its duty . . . especially during a government shutdown where the agents were working without pay?

Make no mistake, safety for federal agents (or any law enforcement officer) during the execution of warrants is priority one. That means personal protective equipment like bullet proof vests, firearms and ammunition would be a foolproof way to ensure officer safety. Christie’s argument advocated allowing Stone to turn himself in? Come on! Care to guess why that is? Okay, I’ll tell you my take on it – the state of the union is strong . . . for the rich and privileged (who may soon be known as “people of means”).

What Warrants Safety

In the conversation about border security, Americans remain focused on the possibility of another government shutdown if the president doesn’t get funding for the wall by mid-February. While the president talked about working class Americans paying the price of illegal immigration, Stacey Abrams pointed out that working class federal employees were used as pawns for political gain in a “stunt engineered by the president” in her response to the SOTU.

What was evident in the SOTU is that the president doesn’t believe the country faces a national emergency when children are murdered in schools. Instead, his focus remains on stoking fear. Through his continued insistence that there is an overwhelming threat from undocumented migrants, the country became less secure during the shutdown.

Somehow, a large swath of Republican politicians and voters are misguided in their belief that national security continued because some federal employees were required to work without pay. Revenge politics left federal employees at airports, seaports and land border crossings far more concerned about providing for their families and not on the security of our nation. Any belief that the SOTU represented the hope and promise of a stronger, safer America is ill-founded. The shutdown, and any remote consideration of a second shutdown on February 15, 2019, completely discounts working class people.

Ripping families apart who are already traumatized by the violence and persecution they seek to escape doesn’t represent strength. Justifying these actions with claims that the Mexican government is now bussing people seeking asylum to the U. S. border to get them out of Mexico just seems petty. It’s another attempt to divert our attention from the lack of humanity in the administration’s policies related to the southern border.

The state of our union is not strong when the president and his Commerce Secretary unapologetically demonstrate how detached they are from working class people. During the shutdown, federal workers were told to go to their local bank or credit union for a loan against their unpaid salaries or do chores to make ends meet. Clueless!

Aside from all that, there was one bright light . . . . one strength. The president used the teleprompter. I couldn’t find a moment that wasn’t scripted. Guess we can say that’s progress.